Residents celebrate, reflect on MLK

A year ago, Linda Melancon’s son was shot less than a block away from the community center named for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. following a daylong community celebration of the slain civil rights leader’s message of nonviolence and unity.

A year later, Melancon stood in the King Center to echo King’s pleas for peace.

“Help me help the young men stop the violence. I would not want any parent to go through what I have gone through,” she said through tears. “Everybody, pull together and help stop the violence in our community.”

Melancon’s voice grew louder and stronger as she continued, “Put down the guns. Stop the fighting. … Stop trying to be friends with our kids and be parents.”

Melancon spoke to more than 200 people gathered for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast that kicked off Monday’s celebration at the King Center. Last year, Melancon’s son, Jardon “Chuck” Melancon, died after being shot in the chest on Hilda Street hours after the King holiday observances ended at the King Center. He was 22. His mother is now part of an anti-violence awareness movement in the community, called Peace for MLK.

On Monday, Lafayette City-Parish Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux presented Melancon with the city’s Act of Courage Award and cited her compassion for reaching out to the family of the man who shot her son. She visits her son’s killer in prison, he said.

Boudreaux said when he learned about Melancon’s outreach to her son’s killer and his family, he thought, “That can only be God. … Her attitude is, ‘I have lost a life. A family has lost a life.’ ”

Boudreaux said more community conversations about how to prevent violence are needed.

Several local ministers offered prayers for the community to remain mindful of King’s message.

“We need unity,” said the Rev. Robert E. Johnson, pastor of The New Church on Louisiana Avenue.

“The civil rights movement began in the church. … When we rise up as a church again and look beyond denominations, we will change the community,” Johnson said in a prayer Monday morning.

The day was also a reflection on the late activist and former South African President Nelson Mandela’s lessons about forgiveness, said Gerald Boudreaux, chairman of the King holiday committee.

“Let’s pass the baton to our young folks and lead by example,” he said.

For high school students Allen Lee and John Zacharie, the day was one filled with gratitude.

“It’s a day to give thanks and appreciation for what Martin Luther King did for us,” said Lee, a Northside High junior who turned 17 Monday.

He and Zacharie, a sophomore at Opelousas Senior High, are members of the Boy Scouts Troop 955 affiliated with Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church. The troop participated in the flag-raising ceremony that started activities at the King Center Monday.

“We have the right to vote, the right to go to school together,” said Zacharie, 16. “It’s a day for all of us to come together and not do things apart from each other.”