Plans are moving full steam ahead for the Richmond Hill Martin Luther King parade Jan 19, according to Unity in the Community organizers and founders Craig and Sharon Butts.
“We are making good progress heading toward that goal. We want this to be an inclusive parade that focuses on the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King,” Craig said.
As part of a myriad of activities that are planned leading up to next year’s parade, Unity in the Community, along with Family Promise of Bryan County, recently sponsored a multi-racial youth forum designed to explore race relations in the community and school system.
For the most part, the teens reported good relations, although they focused on the negative effects of teens, both African-American and others, using the offensive N-word.
“It just doesn’t do any good for anyone to use that word, said Richmond Hill High School student Max Molinari.
Sharon said she felt it was erroneously used by some students because they felt it was a term of endearment, something that could not be further from the truth.
“That term was used to degrade and make individuals feel inhumane,” she said. She acknowledged many forms of popular music that use that term do not help, but hinder the process of furthering understanding between various races.
The youth forum brought out some valuable opinions, she said, and hoped open discussion would continue in the future.
“We had decided as a planning committee to do an event every month to lead up to the parade. So our August event was a youth forum and it was supposed to be later in the month but when Family Promise was going to do their community day, we felt it was better to hold a joint event.
“The youth forum came about because one of the youth on our committee was talking about youth of color not having any voice.”
Forums like these give students of color, along with other group sometimes neglected, such as homosexuals and transgender students, an opportunity to voice their opinions in a constructive manor, she said.
“Some youth feel there is no outlet to air their concerns and questions and this forum is designed to give them an opportunity to express their opinions in a non-judgmental environment.
Craig said it was important to get youth involved in the youth forum, future events, and, ultimately, the upcoming parade.
“The involvement of the youth is very important. Change can’t take place without their input and support.”
He said originally the youth forum was going to be held separately from the Family Promise of Bryan County Community Day. But after consulting with Family Promise Director Candice Fife, they both felt that both groups hosting the youth forum would be more appropriate.
Emmanuel Christian Church Pastor Daniel Boyd asked the youth attending the forum what the adults, of all races, in the community could do to help all students learn by example. Several teens resoundingly told the pastor that adults leading by example would begin to break down barriers and racial stereotypes.
That, Craig said, is one reason for the upcoming MLK parade.
“We want to build up the understanding of the youth in our community about living together as separate races. Dr. King preached that over and over. Our goal is to get people to understand the message of Dr. King,” he said. Craig credited the Richmond Hill city government, including the mayor, city council and city manager with getting squarely behind the new initiative.
“They have been very supportive and encouraging. We could not have asked for anything more,” he said.
The immense amount of plannng for a major event like the MLK parade takes months and months of preparation, something that will help ensure a succesful event.
Sharon, an English teacher at the Richmond Hill High School, said bringing the message of Dr. King should include all available forums, from schools to churches.
“If you want something to change, you have to get involved and help get the message out,” she said.
Although planning is moving along smoothly, the group is looking for a major sponsor, along with other sponsors, for the parade.
“We’re calling this the first annual Richmond Hill Martin Luther King Parade,” he said and hoped that this would become another major event on the city’s burgeoning calendar.
“The parade itself came about as our idea. We started thinking about it in 2016 and it is a by-product of what Unity in the Community is all about. We wanted to take any negative images and turn them into positive ones.”
Part of the success of the Unity organization, he said, is that two events were previously in J.F. Gregory park and were well received by all races in the community.
“We wanted to present part of Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision...that we are all part of the human race.”
The Butts, who came to Richmond Hill from Denver in 2011, after a one-year stop in Kansas City, said they found an African-American community that felt they were limited in ways to get involved in community affairs.
“So we, in turn, reluctantly, didn’t want to believe that so we moved here... and found that African-Americans were mostly involved in the churches...once we found that out, we, of course, wanted to be part of changing that and including them in all community activities.
So Unity in the Community was formed, he said, with the direct purpose to further MLK’s words “that (my four little children) will one day not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Craig said it was important to understand that the upcoming parade is not an event strictly for African-Americans, but rather an event for people of all races.
Both he and Sharon use the term “inclusive” often in their conversations and feel that concept needs to be reiterated often. He also said King’s vision is an idea worth striving for and working to attain and he and his wife are willing to take the lead and run with it.
“We wanted to make sure that King’s message of equality is still an emphasis today. The bottom line is that African- Americans told us when we first moved here in 2011 that they were being left out. Our group and the MLK parade are hoping to continue to change that.”
The group is also looking for a donation of temporary office space for the duration of the planning process leading up to the MLK parade on Jan 19.
For information about Unity in the Community, becoming a sponsor in the upcoming MLK parade or volunteering time to become involved in any of the group’s many activities, call Craig or Sharon Butts at 912-495-8838 or 816-699-9689.