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Calvin Waye, left, and Ronald Chappell talk before the start of the 2021 Martin Luther King Jr. Parade.

Before there was a Martin Luther King Jr. Day, there were folks like Glynn County’s Calvin Waye.

Waye dedicated himself to a career in police work back in the 1960s when law enforcement agencies here in the Golden Isles were largely segregated. As King advanced the cause of civil rights on a national level, Waye helped dismantle racial barriers right here by serving the community he loves in the Brunswick Police Department, the Glynn County Police Department and the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office.

Many decades later, it does Waye’s heart good to see the multicultural inclusion of the participants and spectators at the local annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade. This year’s parade begins at 10:30 a.m. Monday at Howard Coffin Park, 1402 Sonny Miller Way in Brunswick. Monday is a federal and state holiday in recognition of the slain civil rights leader.

All groups who wish to participate in the parade are encouraged to arrive between 8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. Monday at the park, located near the corner of Gloucester Street and U.S. Highway 17. Participants will be accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis, said Waye, who has helped organize the annual parade for more than 20 years.

Last year was the first time parade organizers opened the parade to all. Waye was happily surprised by the wide array of entrants. Marching bands from local schools, civic and church groups, private companies, youth clubs and others turned out to celebrate King’s life and accomplishments, he said. There is no fee to enter the parade.

“We had people I’ve never seen before and they just put so much into it,” Waye said. “We’re looking forward to another big turnout this year. This parade is for the community and the people.”

Waye has enjoyed watching the annual parade transform over the years into an event that is embraced by all in the Golden Isles. After all, he remembers being a part of that struggle and working to integrate our local communities both as an officer and as a citizen.

A Black officer like Waye could not even get day-shift patrol duty when he started with the city police department in 1966. Blacks often were discouraged from arresting White people, he said. But Waye stuck with it. He went on to break the color barrier on the county police department, eventually patrolling on sunny St. Simons Island and conducting crime scene investigations and other in-depth police work. He was serving with the county sheriff’s office upon his retirement many years later.

With voting rights issues stirring on the state and national level and current calls for racial justice across the country, King’s message remains relevant still today, Waye said.

“I think that in these times the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. matters as much as ever before,” Waye said.

“Dr. King means so much to me,” Waye added. “We all have come to see each other as equal because of Dr. King’s work, but it was a tough struggle. I think this is the reason we see such a large turnout each year. And we see all cultures taking part. It has become a parade for all people.”

Among those at the fore of the parade Monday will be newly elected Mayor Cosby Johnson. Johnson grew up attending the local parade, which his father Larry Johnson helped establish.

“My father, along with other community leaders like Mr. Calvin Waye, were the first ones to start this powerful tradition of recognizing the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. here in Brunswick,” Johnson said. “I remember vividly as a child setting up before and breaking down the parade after. And because of those roots, this day continues to represent a day of service, not a day off. It is a day of service to remember not only Dr. King, but all those who sacrificed so our community could truly live up to that creed that all men are created equal.”

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