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Monday, 21 January 2019, was a bright day for the Valley of the Sun. The East Valley Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade and Festival, hosted by the City of Mesa, was well attended and had enough parade entries to last over an hour. Both the crowd lining the parade route, and those marching, broadly reflected the East Valley community.
Unlike the Veterans’ Day parade, where a non-profit group has had primary responsibility for organization and funding over the years, The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade was a public-private partnership event. The City of Mesa takes lead responsibility:
The East Valley Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade is a collaboration by the City of Mesa and Mesa Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee.
As with the Veterans’ Day parade, the Mesa Police Department ran a first-class operation, discreetly providing excellent security without a heavy hand. School buses and tractor trailers from the city protected the parade route from vehicular attack. A helicopter circled the area. Motorcycle and foot patrol officers moved up and down the route.
The crowd looked like Mesa. There were young families and senior citizens. Most of the people who lined the parade route, standing or sitting in folding camp chairs, were white or Hispanic, with apparently more blacks marching in the parade than watching. This reflects Arizona’s demographics, as reported by the US Census Bureau. Even though there are different months and observances for different ethnic groups’ history, people who did not have work made the decision to go watch a parade honoring the American most identified with the struggle for black civil rights.
The Parade Entrants:
There was some overlap in participants between the Veterans’ Day Parade and the Martin Luther King Jr. Parade. Groups dedicated to commemorating African Americans’ participation in our military, especially the Buffalo Soldiers role in the American West, were in both parades. Then there were entrants whose messages were attuned to this holiday, as distinct from Veterans’ Day. These included church, civil rights, and political activist groups. As with the spectators, lining the parade route, the parade entrants reflected the East Valley.
A highlight of this parade, which was not in the most recent East Valley Veterans’ Parade, was a group of Buffalo Soldier reenactors, on foot and mounted.
Three different motorcycle groups rolled in the parade.
The Civil Air Patrol and Commemorative Air Force at Falcon Field reminded us of the Tuskegee Airmen.
School bands, dance and cheer groups marched, along with community athletic groups.
A pageant winner and a professional team mascot waved all along the route.
The Mesa and Gilbert Police Departments marched, the Mesa PD band leading and the Gilbert restomodded police cruiser lighting up the bubble light, siren, and tires. The city governments of Mesa and Chandler had representatives marching behind city banners. Both cities’ fire departments had classic fire engine entries.
Historically black churches were well represented in the parade, still core institutions in community life.
The Anti-Defamation League and the Lions Club marched, and the Girl Scouts pulled wagons full of those delicious cookies.
The local Democratic Party was well represented, with three entries.
There was little overt ideological messaging, except for a few hand-crafted signs and a couple progressive chants. Police officers walked the route shaking hands and giving children “junior police” stickers. The parade atmosphere was positive and celebratory, complemented by a wonderful Arizona January day, a few fluffy clouds, sunshine, and shirt-sleeve temperatures.
Media note: There was limited media coverage. 12 News (KPNX-TV, NBC) produced a 34-second segment on the parade and festival, entitled “Mesa celebrates Martin Luther King Jr.” ABC15 ran a segment in the early morning, “Mesa hosts MLK Day parade and festival,” informing viewers about the parade and festival that would happen later in the morning. AZCentral.com the online version of the Arizona Republic, embedded a video about the East Valley MLK Day parade, in the body of a story focussed on the Phoenix parade. A citizen videographer captured most of the parade and posted it to YouTube as “MLK Parade, Mesa, AZ, Jan 21st, 2019.”