Four years ago, I became a float rider and recruiter for members of the Association of Rice University Black Alumni to represent Rice University in the Martin Luther King Jr. parade. I vividly recall the first time I saw the Rice float. It reminded me of a rickety wooden heap. I said to myself, “Is this it?”
Several students arrived and we decorated the float with the materials provided by the university. I was told that we shared this float with the Pride parade. Therefore, we had to first strip the decorations used for the Pride parade and replace those with decorations for the MLK parade. When the decorations were completed, the float looked okay. However, I still had a little anxiety about how the float would compare to the other floats in the parade.
As the parade proceeded, I was pleased to behold the excitement in the eyes of the children and their parents. Their amazement at seeing so many blacks who either had attended or were attending Rice made everything worthwhile. I am certain that at least one child was inspired to dream that he or she could one day attend Rice. The DJs for the various radio stations gave us enthusiastic shout-outs, drawing even more attention to us from the crowd. Who knows how many people heard about us over the radio and what the impact was. I completely forgot that I was riding a rickety float.
I again participated in the parade the following year. This time, I had no anxiety about the physical condition of the float. The students helped with the decorations. Again, the decorations were okay and again, the excitement of the children was amazing.
Last year, no students helped to decorate the float. Four of us were able to remove the Pride decorations and install the MLK banner. Despite the appearance of the float, the children were still excited to see us on the Rice float. Again, we received a huge response from the local DJs who were surprised to learn that black Rice students knew how to dance. I was happy to see that the student float riders were from various ethnic groups. This was a living demonstration of MLK’s dream.
I was especially excited about this year’s parade. The float was decorated far in advance of the parade by several students and looked absolutely beautiful. One alumna, Debra Rolfe Balthazar (Jones ‘79), developed a theme for the float, “Unhidden Figures.” Placards were made of various alumni who have made a difference in their various fields. Each placard included a picture, first year at Rice and name. Another alumnus and prominent attorney, Gaylyn Cooper (Hanszen ‘75), drove down from Beaumont, Texas to participate as a float rider. He was moved to participate after hearing of the excitement of the children upon seeing the float.
Special thanks to all of the enthusiastic students who participated. The students also provided the music for the float. The alumni shared stories of their time at Rice with the students and entertained them with old school dancing. We had a wonderful time, and I hope that everyone participates in next year’s parade.
Yes, the float is still rickety, and I would not object if a new or improved one were provided by the university and/or the alumni. It should be noted that the Rice float did not look out of line with the majority of the floats that participated in the parade. This very float once won an award in the parade.
The purpose of the float outweighs its condition. If only one child is inspired to dream that it is possible to attend Rice or any other university, then the float has fulfilled its purpose and the vision of MLK.
Joyce Deyon-Sallier (Chachere)
Jones College ’76