By Robin Shannon and David Vitrano
Published/Last Modified on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 10:42 PM CST
The focus was on the future of St. John the Baptist Parish as crowds gathered on both sides of the Mississippi River Monday for festivities to pay tribute to the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In the morning, a large group of men, women and children, accompanied by the Destrehan High School ROTC and drumline, gathered in front of East St. John Elementary School for a march down Airline Highway to the Percy Hebert Building. Speakers then engaged the crowd of about 100 with talks that centered on rediscovering the family element and fostering the development of the youth in the community.
“Our young people are not empty receptacles that we fill with information,” said John Cuttingham of LaPlace. “We must be coal miners digging away at the dirt to find the diamond inside.”
The keynote speaker in LaPlace was Harold Blood Sr., principal at R.K. Smith Middle School in Luling and deacon at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Reserve. Blood addressed the myriad problems facing society, placing the blame squarely on what he perceives as a breakdown of family values.
“We have become so caught up in the materialism in this world that we have taken our eyes off the prize,” Blood said. “We have gone off track, and it all starts at home in the family. We have all been called for a purpose. That purpose is our passion. Engage your passion, and you will find your role in society.”
Other speakers took note of the number of young children in the crowd and at the march. St. John Parish Sheriff-elect Mike Tregre called it one of the best turnouts for the younger generation he’d ever seen.
“It shows me that there is a growing cooperative spirit in the community,” Tregre said. “There is still time to turn things around.”
In Edgard, a sizeable crowd gathered for a celebration at the West St. John Community Center, where residents celebrated the many accomplishments of African American men and women in the parish’s political realm.
In her opening remarks Chermaine Roybiskie, president of the West St. John Civic Association, made light of the fact that the parish currently has a growing number of African-American political officials that include Tregre, Parish President Natalie Robottom, Assessor Whitney Joseph, state Rep. Randal Gaines, state Sen. Troy Brown, and also five of the nine parish council members, all of which were present for the celebration.
“These accomplishments speak wonders about the realization of Dr. King’s dream within this community,” Roybiskie said. “This dream is for everyone in the community, man or woman, white or black.”
At about the same time, another celebration was taking place on the east bank, this time at Twin Oaks nursing home in LaPlace.
The celebration featured numerous rousing songs led by Gordon Eugene that had some of the residents dancing among the tables and chairs.
After a special liturgical dance performed by Adrianna McMickle, Travis Ford, the leader of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and a teacher at East St. John High School, spoke about his work with the youth of St. John Parish.
“Trust me, there’s a whole lot more positive things going on at East St. John than negative. A whole lot,” he said.
He also spoke of visiting sites related to the life of King during his time spent in Atlanta.
“It really put things in perspective for me,” he said. “It’s not about the size of the person. It’s about what’s in his heart.”