Family and Youth Opportunities Division Inc. brought back Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Month celebrations in Clarksdale for the first time since the COVID pandemic began in 2020.
A parade honoring Black History Month in February and King’s birthday in January took place Saturday afternoon with Family and Youth Opportunities Division Inc., a local organization, sponsoring the event.
Dr. Mary Frances Dear-Moton, Family and Youth Opportunities Division Inc. founder, estimated the parade went four to five miles. The parade began at the old Myrtle Hall No, 3 school on Grant Street and ended at the Clarksdale Civic Auditorium on East Second Street.
Dear-Moton said the organization’s first Black History Month and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade happened in 2007. After canceling it for two years due to the pandemic, she said it was time to have another one.
Dear-Moton said, based on listening to the Health Advisory, the decision was made to have the parade, but encourage participants to take safety precautions and lower the risk of contracting COVID.
“That’s why I still have my face cover on and we’re going to have to gradually get into it,” she said. “We just cannot give up because of the pandemic, which is something that we’ve never experienced before.”
“We decided to start back and we’ll start with a small group or a large group,” Dear-Moton said. Because this is something we need to do. We don’t need to let Dr. King’s dream die. We want to keep his dream alive.” Dear-Moton estimated 25 cars participated in the parade. Anyone was able to participate and there was not a fee.
Participants included the Coahoma Community College band, Coahoma Opportunities Inc., Family and Youth Opportunities Division Inc. board members and local businesses.
Eddie L. Buggs Jr., CCC director of bands, was glad to be part of the parade.
“First of all, it’s Black History Month,” he said. “This is commemorating Black History and a wonderful person in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and we are a community college, so we must serve the community. And what better way than exhibit the talents of the students than doing a performance in the parade? This was a great preview for us as we prepare for our Mardi Gras parades next week.”
Buggs expects Saturday’s turnout will encourage other people to participate in the 2024 parade.
“We’re hoping this will bring more and more people out and, as the word gets out, it will be bigger crowds next year,” he said.
Dear-Moton expressed similar sentiments. “It was a great start today,” she said.
Family and Youth Opportunities Division Inc.’s annual Martin Luther King banquet that started in 2007 and has been held at the Isle of Capri Hotel in Lula was canceled the past three years due to the COVID pandemic.
Dear-Moton said she expects a banquet to once again be held in 2024, stating that the 2024 Martin Luther King banquet might be held in the old Myrtle Hall No. 3 cafeteria instead of the Isle of Capri hotel in commenting about other things Family and Youth Opportunities Division Inc. is planning in the near future.
The organization has acquired the old Myrtle Hall No. 3 school’s buildings on Grant Street.
Dear-Moton said Family and Youth Opportunities Division Inc. is seeking grants to fix up all four buildings on the property.
“It may be looking like it’s down and out now, but give us a few months and we got some grants out there,” she said. “Pray with us and, hopefully, we can receive those grants and we’re going to start that campus back up.”
Dear-Moton said the historic museum will be where the old library was. She said different programs will be in the building where students attended school, the gym will remain intact and be used for different kids activities on weekdays and weekends. Different functions will be held in the old cafeteria.
Dear-Moton’s daughter, Amanda Dear-Jones, succeeded her as the Family and Youth Opportunities Division Inc. executive director in 2020.
PHOTO CUTLINE: Family and Youth Opportunities Division Inc. board members participate in Saturday’s parade. Pictured, from left, are Samuel McCray, Bernestine McCray, Hattie Shivers, Marilyn Davis, Dr. Mary Frances Dear-Moton, Evangelist Loretta Bryant, Jasmine Daniels, and William Moore.