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Thousands in Las Vegas attend Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade

Updated January 20, 2020 - 6:00 pm

Claire Griffin remembers huddling around the television with her family, listening to Martin Luther King Jr.’s last speech before he was assassinated April 4, 1968.

King spoke of his hope for the future.

“He said he may not get there with us,” Griffin recalled, adding she was 12 when King gave the speech. “He said it’s going to be tough ahead but to keep going and don’t give up.”

While watching the 38th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in downtown Las Vegas on Monday, Griffin wore a sweatshirt of King giving a speech with the quote “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.”

It was a gift from her mother.

Thousands of people commemorated the late civil rights leader with Griffin along the parade route on Fourth Street from Gass Avenue to Ogden Avenue. It started at 10 a.m. and wrapped up at 3 p.m., according to Wendell Williams, a former Nevada assemblyman and the president and founder of the local Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, which formed in 1981 and held the first parade the following year.

This year’s theme was “Living the Dream — The Time is Right to Do What’s Right.”

To beat the crowds, Griffin and her cohort arrived an hour and a half before the parade started to make sure they had the best view of the festivities. Griffin, who is an associate pastor at Abundant Peace United Church of Christ in Las Vegas, and her companions planned on being at the parade for the entire time and brought food and water to keep up their energy. However, even with their provisions they bowed out at 2:30 p.m.

Fourth Street was most crowded near Fremont Street, as spectators cheered on participants representing local schools and nonprofits. Children and adults danced to hip-hop and R&B music.

One float played King’s speeches, and a pair of women dressed as astronauts carried a banner with a depiction of three African American women at NASA featured in the movie “Hidden Figures.”

Mater Academy of Nevada students sang the “Happy Birthday” song in honor of King, who would have turned 91 on Jan. 15.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman was in the parade in a pink Cadillac driven by an Elvis impersonator. Meanwhile, North Las Vegas City Councilman Isaac Barron rode in a convertible limousine.

For Xatiyana Chandler, it was the first time she brought her three young children to the parade. She wanted to support their school, Kelly Elementary.

“I wanted to give them this experience,” she said.

Her daughter, Qui’Mara Brown, 7, said her favorite part was watching people dance. Qui’Mara said she hoped she could be one of the dancers in the parade someday.

Griffin said the holiday brings both joy and great sorrow.

Remembering his death is hard, but she is proud of how much progress the civil rights movement has made, Griffin said, adding she was overjoyed when President Barack Obama was elected as the nation’s first African American president in 2008.

“I never thought I’d live in a time like this,” she said. “I’m so thankful for everyone.”

Contact Alex Chhith at achhith@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0290. Follow @alexchhith on Twitter.

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