With a strong drum beat, hundreds of St. Croix students marched the streets of Frederiksted Monday morning, chanting “Keep the Dream Alive” and waving posters of Martin Luther King Jr. over their heads.
Sen. Terrance “Positive” Nelson was in the center of the parade blowing a conch shell, but it was the Seventh-day Adventist VI Pulse Drum Corp, St. Croix Central and St. Croix Educational Complex High School bands that appeared to spread the most enthusiasm.
Labor also took part in the parade, represented by the St. Croix American Federation of Teachers and the United Steelworker’s Union. They carried signs saying they demanded the pay that was due workers and also demanding more jobs be brought to the territory.
Roberto James, a public school teacher, carried a sign urgin, “Save Our Children. It costs less to educate and more to incarcerate.”
Central Labor Council Civil Rights Committee sponsored the parade and formal ceremonies at the end of the parade at Buddhoe Park. It had started at Claude O. Markoe Elementary School.
“It means a lot to me celebrating today,” said parade marcher Kemoi George, an eighth grade student at Arthur A. Richards Junior High. “We celebrate all the work he did for us.”
Kyle Edwin, also an Arthur Richards eighth-grader, said it made him happy and proud to celebrate the accomplishments of King.
“He did a lot for us and went through difficulties for us and freedom,” Edwin said.
The students who marched all had folding chairs provided for them in the shade so that after the parade they could sit and view the celebration.
George Otto, master of ceremony from the Central Labor Council, requested that the children listen and understand why they were at the ceremony.
Kevin Williams performed a musical presentation on the steel pan, and Diane John sang the V.I. anthem and "Lift Every Voice and Sing," considered to be the black national anthem, for the hundreds gathered. Jahmani Johnson did a moving rendition of the U.S. national anthem. Alani Arnold, sixth-grade student at St. Patrick’s School, read King’s “I Have a Dream” speech with emotion and a strong voice.
Thalema Williams and students in the Thalema Williams Dance Academy did interpretive dance, and the ballet students in Music in Motion also performed for the crowd. Alexander Henderson Elementary School children sang a Swahili song, “We are Marching in the Light of God.”
Antoinette Rampersad, the chairwoman of the Civil Rights Committee, said people are all guaranteed civil rights, human rights and constitutional rights. Ira Hobson, of the CLC said people came together for the same purpose and the children made it all possible for the march. Hobson was also honored for 29 years of service in the CLC.
Jamila Russell, V.I. Territorial ADA coordinator, spoke about civil rights and God-given rights. “ADA affords the right to be treated as human and never taken for granted,” Russell said. “People with disabilities have a right to fair and appropriate education and services.”
Steel Worker Jerry Jackson said unity is strength.
“Yes we can and yes we did,” he said referring to the teachers’ union and the steel workers’ union members who worked to get the 2011 eight percent pay cut refunded because it was unconstitutional.
He added “We’re stronger together and can achieve more. Let us move forward, organize, believe, hope and justice will prevail.”
The theme for the day of celebration was “Let us March on to Victory.”
“The union is us and the government is us,” Otto said. “It doesn’t mean we sit down. Action is taken by the people.”
Complex and Central Junior ROTC members marched along with children from the Boys and Girls Club and the Jest Force volley ball team. The Tuskegee Youth Aviation Club, fraternities and sororities and Eastern Star members took part and marched. And most of St. Croix’s private and public school students marched in brief intermittent showers.
This was 25th anniversary for the Labor Council paying tribute to King.
The Virgin Islands was among the first U.S. jurisdictions to mark the birthday of the civil rights icon with a holiday. King’s birthday was declared a federal holiday in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan. While the birthday is Jan.15, it is celebrated on the third Monday of January each year.