By Josh Troy
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, once again 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 schools on Grant Street. The vehicles then turned left from Grant to Seventh street, right on DeSoto Avenue, left on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, right on Issaquena Avenue, right on East Second Street, and finished at the Clarksdale Civic Auditorium. The civic auditorium is on East Second Street.
Dear-Moton said the organization’s first Black History Month and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade came in 2007. After canceling it for two years due to the pandemic, she said it was time to have another one.
“We decided to start back, and we’ll start with a small or a large group,” Dear-Moton said. “I was just so excited and elated to have Coahoma Community College come out and join us because this is something we need to do. We don’t need to let Dr. King’s dream die, and we want to keep his dream alive, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do, and that’s what we’re a part of, keeping his dream alive.”
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 cannot give up because of the pandemic, which is something we’ve never experienced before.” Dear-Moton estimated 25 cars participated in the parade. Anyone was able to participate, and there was no fee.
Participants included the Coahoma Community College band, Coahoma Opportunities Inc., Family and Youth Opportunities Division Inc. board members, and local businesses. Dear-Moton is currently the Coahoma Opportunities Inc. RSVP director and works with seniors. Clarksdale Ward 4 Commissioner Ed Seals is the Coahoma Opportunities Inc. executive director. Dear-Moton’s daughter, Amanda Dear-Jones, succeeded her as the Family and Youth Opportunities Division Inc. executive director in 2020. Dear-Jones could not be at the parade Saturday because she is working on earning her Ph.D. and was in class this week.
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 to exhibit the students’ talents than performing 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. “I think everybody’s excited and the community, as they stood out and saw it, they were like, wow, they started back doing this. They were happy we were doing this. We need to do as much as possible that we can do to keep Dr. King’s dream alive.” Family and Youth Opportunities Division Inc.’s annual Martin Luther King banquet, which started in 2007 and has been held at the Isle of Capri Hotel in Lula, was canceled for the past three years due to the COVID pandemic. Dear-Moton said she expects a banquet to be held again in 2024.
Dear-Moton talked 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 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 look 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 would be where the old library was. She said different programs would be in the building where students attended school. The gym would remain intact and used for kids’ activities on weekdays and weekends, and other functions would be held in the old cafeteria. Dear-Moton said the 2024 Martin Luther King banquet might be held in the old Myrtle Hall No. 3 cafeteria instead of the Isle of Capri hotel.
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.