by Karen Ocamb
The theme of New Year Day’s 129th Rose Parade was “making a difference,” reminding the US and international audience that “there is kindness in humankind,” as Lance Tibbett, president of the 2018 Tournament of Roses, put it in a video message on KTLA. Indeed, as Donald Trump enters his second year trying to reverse steady progress toward a better world, the splendor and accessible pageantry of creatively beautiful floats made of seeds and flowers and other natural materials this added a subtle middle finger to all the climate-change deniers while still being a visual thrill for the imagination.
And for the seventh year, AIDS Healthcare Foundation offered an emotional touch of advocacy that feted both the intellect and the heart. AHF’S first float was a tribute to Elizabeth Taylor, her universal stardom and her dedication to fighting AIDS—an historical leap forward from the startling protest in 1990 when AIDS protesters stepped from the sidewalk into the street, unfurled a banner saying “Emergency. Stop the parade. 70,000 dead of AIDS,” briefly halting the parade on live TV until the demonstrators were arrested.
Last year, AHF honored the dead and survivors of the massacre of mostly gay Latinos in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. This year, with Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday less than two weeks away, AHF chose to honor the courage and sacrifice of social justice crusaders like King, who’s horrific assassination happened 50 years ago this April 4 at the hands of white supremacist James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee prompted riots in numerous cities.
Recreated with the required natural floral coverage, the AHF float featured a rendering of Lei Yixin’s ‘Stone of Hope’ granite statue of MLK; the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which King, John Lewis and other icons of the Civil Rights Movement marched across in 1965 to face racist police in what became known as ‘Bloody Sunday;’ a statute of King with one foot marching forward; and several social justice warriors of today.
But perhaps the most moving—and the most chilling—representations of the social justice movement marching into 2018 was the presence of Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, the 32 year old killed by a white supremacist who drove his car into a crowd of people protesting a gathering of KKK, Neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017. The symbolism on the float was unmistakable: the arc of the moral universe, represented by the Pettis Bridge, bent from the MLK statute to Heather Heyer—both courageous and both felled by white supremacists 50 years apart. But the sign on the front of platform on which a representation of King was still moving forward said: “Keeping the Promise.”
That’s been the theme for the past year as AHF celebrates its 30th anniversary. AIDS and access to healthcare becomes linked to civil rights and fighting white supremacy today.
All in the 30 seconds or so on television and the long minutes the float took making its way down the boulevard, if one listened to the announcers.
“The reception as phenomenal,” AHF’s Ged Kenslea told The Los Angeles Blade.
“My daughter Heather stood bravely for unity and against hate and always believed in dialogue and discussion as the keys to peace,” Bro, founder of the Heather Heyer Foundation, said in a statement. “We are honored to continue Heather’s legacy by partnering with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and encouraging young people across the country to promote peace.”
In an interview with CBS2’s Greg Mills, Bro added: “If I think about Heather and why we’re here. It’s not only humbling, it’s very sad because she’s not here with me….Let’s all roll up our sleeves and get to what we need to do to make this country better.”
Watch these KTLA pre-parade videos of AHF’s 2018 Rose Parade float under construction:
KTLA’s Gayle Anderson interviews Cynthia Davis, Chair of AHF’s Board of Directors: