Edwards Association leads Gonzales with MLK parade, celebration


On one of the coldest days of the year, the Edwards Association in Gonzales on Monday, Jan. 15, embraced the warm teachings of love, freedom and peace handed down by the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the 95th anniversary of his birth.

Sub-freezing temperatures led the Edwards Association to turn its annual MLK March into a slow parade of cars from Independence Square up Saint Paul Street and onto Saint Andrew to the Edwards CommUNITY Center at the intersection of Fry and Kleine streets. About 20 cars took part.

The camaraderie continued at the center with a program honoring the civil rights leader which featured guest remarks from Gonzales City Councilmember Sherri Tumlinson Koepp, Gonzales ISD Superintendent Dr. Elmer Avellenada and Adrienne Steen, GISD Director of Student Supports & Strategic Initiatives.

The theme of the day was “Living the Dream: It Starts with Me — Spreading Hope, Courage and Unity” and the event was emceed by Edwards Association president David Tucy and MLK Activities Chair Dr. Tena Roaches.

Koepp, stating she was participating in a MLK March and program for the first time, reminded those present that “the echoes of Dr. King's dream still resonate in our society today.”

“His dream was not just a fleeting vision, but a call to action, a summons to each and every one of us to stand up against injustice, discrimination and inequality,” Koepp said. “Dr. King's words remind us that darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do it. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. In the face of adversity, he advocated for a revolution of values, a transformation of our hearts and minds towards a collective commitment to justice and brotherhood.

“Today, we find ourselves at a pivotal moment in history, where the struggles for justice and equality still persist. Dr. King's dream was not fulfilled in his lifetime, and the torch has been passed to us. It is our responsibility to carry it forward and ensure that the flame of justice burns brightly in the hearts of our children, and generations to come.”

Koepp reminded those present that King’s dream was “not just about racial equality.”

“It encompassed a broader vision of a society where everyone, regardless of race, color, creed, could live together in harmony and mutual respect,” Koepp said. “Let us use this as an opportunity to bridge the divides that still exist in our community. Let us commit ourselves to fostering understanding, compassion, and empathy. Through open hearts and open minds, we can build unity, and dismantle the practice of prejudice and discrimination that threatens to divide us.”

Avellenada said his first experience with Martin Luther King Jr. was during elementary school in Crawford while serving a three-day placement in detention in the library after getting into a fight.

“The librarian turned out to be a great friend of mine,” Avellenada said. “She didn’t expose me to Junie B Jones or Hank the Cowdog. She exposed me to Martin Luther King. I took a liking to him because he looked a little bit like me. I read about him those three days and I learned a lot of valuable information that has served me well throughout my life and career as an educator and as an individual in the community as well.

“One of the things that I learned was that education is the key. During my detention, I learned that if I got as educated as possible, I will be able to make a difference, not only financially for me, but also for my family. So that's what I did. I chose to get as educated as possible.”

Ten years later, as a high school senior, Avellenada was at the top of his class, but was dismayed to hear from his guidance counselor she didn’t think he would be able to go to college because he was “undocumented” as his family immigrated to the United States illegally when he was nine.

His mother wouldn’t let him give up hope and he eventually not only got into college on foreign scholarships, but would graduate, get his permanent resident card and would get to work his way up from being a teacher to being superintendent of Gonzales ISD. He said it wouldn’t have been possible, however, without help along the way.

“Anybody that's told you they've achieved greatness by themselves is lying to you,” Avellenada said. “There's got to be unity in greatness. Nobody ever achieves greatness, whether it's an organization, a group, a community, a city, an association, unless there's unity, hope and courage.”

He urged those present not to let others dictate their narrative and reminded them they had to have faith.

“You have to have faith in everything you do — every single day, every second of your life, every minute of your life,” Avellenada said. “You have to have faith and you have to serve others in order to achieve greatness.”

Steen, who is descended from alumni of the old Edwards High School, said she was pleased to hear the theme of the day because “hope, courage and unity are at the forefront of my purpose as an educator.”

“The joy that I have experienced watching my students and former athletes accomplish goals that they had no idea they were capable of in the first place is one of the best feelings in the world,” Steen said. “I always want students to have the courage to hope. You see hope doesn't come naturally to everyone because of what they may have experienced in our lives. But courage is something that we can give each other. The courage to face adversity when you realize that you are not alone, and that you are supported, can make a huge difference in the decisions that you make.”

Steen said she is “thankful each day that I can live the dream,” noting it wouldn’t be possible “without the hard work in sacrifices of those who came before me.” She also spoke about how “gaining knowledge is the power to provide our youth with the best learning opportunities that are out there, not only making them productive citizens, but also providing them with the necessary tools to be competitive in today's society.”
“If we unite to build a culture and understanding that education is something that no one can ever take for you, the opportunities are endless for our youth,” Steen said.

Quoting Gandhi, she said “you must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

“So in order to be the change that I wish to see, I had to realize and fully embrace that it starts with me,” Steen said.