January 5, 2021 at 1:51 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
D.C.’s King Day Parade to feature 2 gay grand marshals
Phil Pannell, gay news, Washington Blade
Community activist Phil Pannell is one of two openly gay grand marshals of the 40th annual D.C. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Parade. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Melvin Deal, founder and artistic director of D.C.’s highly acclaimed African Heritage Dancers and Drummers performing arts group who’s gay, and longtime D.C. gay and Ward 8 community activist Phil Pannell, who serves as executive director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council, are among nine people selected as grand marshals for the 40th Annual D.C. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Parade.

The website for the King Day Parade says it will take place this year on Jan. 18, as a virtual event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Stay tuned!” a website message says for information on how to access the virtual parade through the website mlkholidaydc.org.

“The parade began in 1979, six years before King’s birthday became a federal holiday,” says the website, which is produced by the parade’s current lead organizer, Denise Barnes, publisher of the Washington Informer, one of D.C.’s two African-American newspapers.

“Dr. King’s life and legacy is commemorated by a day of service and promoted as A Day On and Not a Day Off,” the website says.

Deal, who recently celebrated his 78th birthday, is described on the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers website as an accomplished dancer, musician, choreographer, and researcher who has studied at Ghana University, the University of Nigeria and other cultural institutions to become highly knowledgeable in the African Diaspora.

“The African Heritage Dancers and Drummers were one of the first ‘Black Performing Arts’ companies originating in the Inner-City Shaw communities of Metro Washington, D.C. as a Black Cultural Awareness project in the early 1960s,” the website says. “Originally composed of primarily community residents, the African Heritage Company has grown to include performers from around the world, including the continent of Africa,” it says.

“Mr. Deal has worked tirelessly in researching African cultural manifestations to be used in the building of self-esteem and addressing the presence of violence, delinquency and dysfunctional lifestyles and abuse in African-American communities,” the website says.

Pannell, a longtime community activist and advocate for neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, is a current member of the D.C. Democratic State Committee. He has served in leadership positions for a number of community-based organizations, including the Congress Heights Community Association.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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