Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2017

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Parade grand marshals provide service in mold of MLK


Steve Marcus

Lillian McMorris, left, one of the parade grand marshals, waves during the 31st annual Martin Luther King Jr. parade in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013. MGM Resorts International was the presenting sponsor for the event.

31st Annual MLK Jr. Parade Downtown

Shania Washington, a fourth grader at Kelly Elementary School, holds a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. during the 31st annual MLK JR. parade in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013. MGM Resorts International was the presenting sponsor for the event. Launch slideshow »

MLK Parade

The Martin Luther King Jr. Parade begins at 10 a.m. at Fourth Street and Gass, then heads north on Fourth to Ogden. It is expected to continue until 2:30 p.m. An estimated 40,000 people are expected to watch.

When it came time to choose the 31st annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade grand marshals, the selection of both the Rev. Marion Bennett and Lillian McMorris was simple for parade president Wendell Williams.

Since 1982, Williams and a selection committee have chosen a male and female grand marshal that best represent King’s values of community service and unity. Each year the grand marshals ride in the parade – which will weave through an estimated 40,000 spectators Monday - as the ceremonial guests of honor.

The selection of Bennett and McMorris were long overdue, Williams said.

“These two people most exemplify what we are looking for in grand marshals,” Williams said. “… They’re both are involved in the entire community.”

When the 10 a.m. festivities kick off, both Bennett and McMorris will ride through a parade on a holiday that Williams said represents a day of duty to one’s community rather than a day off. He feels both grand marshals represent King’s beliefs, and both have left a large imprint on Las Vegas.

Williams said Bennett represented the “no non-sense service” King was known for. Bennett has been serving the Las Vegas community since 1960; he worked as the pastor of Zion United Methodist Church until 2003.

Bennett also spent three terms as president of the Las Vegas NAACP, served in the Nevada Legislature for a decade and founded a low-cost African American daycare facility. Williams said Bennett’s true impact on the community, however, would be felt in years to come.

“He’s done so much to plant seeds in community,” Williams said. “…His work will show what he’s been about and has given.”

He has been so entrenched in the Las Vegas community that Williams assumed Bennett already had served as grand marshal. In fact, his daughter, Judge Karen Bennett had even been selected for the honor in the past. When parade organizers realized Bennett hadn’t been selected, it didn’t even require a vote.

“Nobody in the (selection committee) could believe we had overlooked him,” Williams said. “It was an oversight we were glad to overcorrect.”

McMorris had been involved in the parade from the beginning, when it was no longer than a funeral procession and lasted just 30 minutes. Now it is one of the largest parades in Nevada. She has helped with planning, handled media relations, hosted the cable parade show, and done pretty much anything else Williams has needed.

Growing up with a deacon father and a missionary mother in West Sahara, helping others is the only way McMorris has ever known. She has donated most of her life works to charity and community efforts.

Her impact ranged from producing and directing the KVVU-Fox5 public affairs show “A.M. Southern Nevada” highlighting charity efforts throughout Las Vegas to advocacy work for various charities. She said she’s so busy with community efforts most people are baffled at how she juggles her schedule.

“I do it because it’s what I believe in and that’s just me,” McMorris said. “I enjoy seeing and making people happy.”

McMorris said her selection as grand marshal came as a surprise.

“I’ve been involved with MLK committee for over 30 years,” McMorris said. “So it was quite a surprise at this stage of the game to be selected.”

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