OPA-LOCKA – The city of Opa-locka on Monday officially became the first city in the country to name a street in honor of President Barack Obama.
Amid a harmony of marching bands and the low rumble of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Opa-locka’s “Hail to the Chief” parade, honoring the renaming of Perviz Avenue as President Barack Obama Avenue, attracted onlookers eager to show their support for the new president.
“I like everything about Barack Obama,” said Bloneva Ferguson, who watched Monday, Feb. 16 at the parade’s starting point at Northwest 27th Avenue and Northwest 151st Street.
“He is a go-getting president. He is on our level; never too high, but always down to earth. He knows how the people feel.”
An estimated 3,000 people dotted the parade route to catch a glimpse of the procession of marching bands: the Central High Marching Rockets, the Allapattah Junior High Mustang marching band, the Greater Miami Service Corp, and the Black Global Bikers Association.
But while they were proud to celebrate Obama’s victory, some Opa-locka residents said at a recent city commission meeting that they are outraged the city’s dollars are not being spent where they are truly needed.
“Mr. Obama [was] begging to get the stimulus plan passed,” Alvin Burke said during the Feb. 11 commission meeting. “If he was here, he’d tell you that money could best be spent some place else.”
Burke, a community activist and former chairman of Opa-locka’s Planning Council, said many Opa-locka residents feel the effects of the recession. He petitioned the commission to reconsider the $30,000 operating budget to finance the project. The money, they said, should instead be spent helping residents who are losing jobs and homes.
“This is a small town. We have people working. That money could have helped somebody save their home or somebody not sleep in their car,” Burke said.
Several people in the audience at the commission meeting nodded in agreement.
During the meeting, the commission passed a resolution, sponsored by Commissioner Dorothy Johnson, approving the city manager to establish the operating fund. The resolution passed 5-0.
Johnson was quick to point out that the project is a product of fundraising and that the operating budget was merely being established to finance the street naming until all of the funds are received. The city this week had about $15,000 in commitments, with $2,000 of it already received.
“This is not just a party,” Johnson said. “I’m going to ask my colleagues and the citizens to help raise the money so it’s not a burden on the city.”
Vice Mayor Myra Taylor noted the dedication’s historic significance.
“This is not frivolous spending,” Taylor said.
At the parade on Monday, grand marshal Jo Marie Payton, who is an actress, said the event was important not only because it recognizes the president of the United States, but also recognizes the residents of Opa-locka.
“I’m here to say, of all the parades I have been a part of, this was a fabulous parade,” said Payton, who grew up in Opa-locka and later starred in the TV sitcom “Family Matters.” “It was so special because this was the first time residents of these neighborhoods have had a parade. They have never had a parade, but now something wonderful has happened. They can look up at the street sign and feel proud.”
The idea to rename a street to honor Obama originated with Johnson, who joined Mayor Joseph Kelley and other city commissioners in the parade.
“It was awesome to be here and get the people out to show our appreciation,” said Johnson, who organized and put the event together in just 10 days. “I feel teary. I am overwhelmed.”
Meandering through Ali Baba Avenue, Opa-locka Boulevard, and ending at City Hall, the one-hour parade became a festival at Sherbondy Park, packed with people and celebration.
Forty events including songs, poems, prayers and speeches and performances by recording artists Ace Hood and Revelation Seed, began at noon on Feb. 16, which was also President’s Day.
A mini job fair along with informational booths featuring art, community health awareness and financial advice also were part of the event.
“It is an honor to honor Barack Obama Avenue,” said Commissioner Rose Tydus. “Each time you ride on the street, each time you walk on the street, continue to love, support and pray for our president.”
Photo by Khary Bruyning. President Barack Obama Avenue sign