A TIME FOR SERVICE ON MLK DAY
With some modifications due to the pandemic, events went on to honor leader’s life
Veronica Smith, from front left, her nephew Nicholas Rogers, 17, her brother Herman Rogers and her sister Catherine Rogers load donated items Monday at MacGregor Park. Across Houston, plans for Martin Luther King Day events were amended to accommodate the pandemic.
For 12 years, Adele O’Neal was afraid to walk down the decrepit ramp in front of her Acres Homes house. She broke her leg in a 2009 fall and relies on a walker, yet only felt comfortable leaving her home with the assistance of one of her 11 grandchildren.
“I wasn’t able to go outside because I was scared the wood was so rotten,” O’Neal said. “I don’t go anywhere. My granddaughter takes me to the store, and that’s it.”
On Monday, a group of volunteers from Rebuilding Together built O’Neal a new ramp as she watched from her porch with her twin brother, Andrew.
Across Houston, plans for Martin Luther King Day events were amended to accommodate the pandemic. This was the first project the nonprofit, which has been repairing homes in the Houston area for 38 years, constructed since this past March when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Texas.
“A ramp is a volunteer
project we feel is reasonably safe to do at this point,” CEO Christine Holland said. “Normally when we work on the outside of someone’s home … we’d have 20 to 25 people. We’re not ready for that.”
O’Neal said the improvement will enable her to stay in her home, which her parents built in 1945. Like many homes in the historically African American neighborhood, it lacked plumbing but had a garden, fruit trees and a chicken coop.
She said she has refused offers from real estate investors to buy her property because she wants to keep the house in her family for future generations.
“I wouldn’t take anything for this house,” she said.
In Third Ward, the city’s annual parade was held virtually, with taped performances from bands, cheerleaders and dancers, as well as live interviews from MacGregor Park.
The co-grand marshals of the event, Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, said the fight for racial justice continues, 53 years after King’s death. Hidalgo cited the killing of Houston native George Floyd by Minneapolis police this past May.
“He reminded us that this is a day for agitation, and that this is a day for action,” Hidalgo said.
There were also three food drives in the area organized by chef Chris Williams, owner of Southern cuisine restaurant Lucille’s.
Williams’ team distributed 1,000 meals each in Rosenberg, Richmond and Fifth Ward.
Williams said his nonprofit designed the meals to the tastes of residents where the dropoff sites were located. The meals for Richmond and Fifth Ward, which have many Black residents, consisted of smothered pork chops with mashed potatoes, gravy and collard greens.
The Rosenberg meals, designed with Latino residents in mind, featured bistec a la Mexicana with Spanish rice and charro beans.
Williams said he wanted each family to feel respected, rather than feeling like they were receiving the leftovers from someone else’s pantry.
“It’s something as simple as considering, what does someone like to eat?” Williams said. “People come together over food, and just to take that one thing off their never-ending list of concerns, for one day, it’s kind of addictive.”
While the pandemic has put many Texans out of work, Williams said many of the residents his food drives serve were hungry before COVID-19 struck. Each drop site on Monday was out of meals within an hour.