Annual MLK parade in Kingsport brings message of love

Matthew Lane • Jan 20, 2020 at 6:30 PM

KINGSPORT — It didn’t matter that the temperature was less than 30 degrees. Cold weather, warm weather or rainy weather. It doesn’t matter. The parade must go on and that’s exactly what happened on Monday with the annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday parade in downtown Kingsport.

“I wish we could have (changed the weather),” said Pastor Ronnie Collins, who has organized the parade for the past 20 years. “We pray and some prayers just don’t get answered. We just roll with them.”

The cold and cloudy weather had little to no effect on the attendance of Monday’s parade, with more than 100 men, women and children coming out, all bundled up, to honor both King and his message.

People of all ages, plenty of young children and teen-agers, older adults and seniors; Caucasians, African-Americans were clearly present, leading the parade with about a dozen vehicles following behind.

New Vision Youth, members of a local baseball team, folks from the Salvation Army, Shades of Grace, other local pastors, Kingsport’s police chief and current and former members of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen all walked the 3,700 feet of the parade route, from East Sevier Avenue to the steps of City Hall.

For Collins, it doesn’t matter what the weather is like or how many people show up for the parade. It’s that King’s legacy goes on.

“The message today is again, the answer to racism is the love of Christ,” Collins said, referencing a quote from Dr King. “(King) said I’m going to stick with love, because hate is too hard to bear, too heavy a burden and I feel the same way. We’re going to stick with love.

“In America, we’ve got more hate and discord now than I’ve seen in years. We’ve still got work to do and still have to show that love.”

One year ago on MLK Day, the city of Kingsport took a historic step and designated Lincoln Street — from Wilcox Drive to the John B. Dennis Highway — as the “Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Parkway.”

It was a designation more than 20 years in the making. However, the ultimate goal is for all of Lincoln Street to be officially renamed with King’s name. It’s a mission Collins and others are still advocating for and working towards.

“We’re not giving up on Lincoln Street being renamed. We need it from the black community in Riverview to John B. Dennis and we’re not giving up on that. That’s still our number one objective right now,” Collins said. “At the (MLK) memorial in Washington D.C., I’ve always wondered why they didn’t have his feet. One reason I heard is, the work is not over so you don’t want him standing, saying it’s done.

“It’s not done yet. At some time, I will pray, the work does get complete.”

Monday’s parade sponsors included Food City, the city of Kingsport, Office Depot, Joshua Generation (JGII), My Brother's Keeper, Putting Babies First, Tennessee & Virginia Fellowship Against Racism, New Vision, H.O.P.E. and the Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency.