EAST ST. LOUIS — The city raised the roof Thursday and celebrated one of its own, two time Olympic medalist Dawn Harper.
For a little while State Street was transformed into Hollywood Boulevard. Cameras flashed, fans waved flags, clapped and screamed. Some adults shouted. Some stomped their feet rhythmically. Some blew car horns and waved as Harper passed by sitting on the back of a black car waving to her hometown fans.
There were balloons, brightly decorated cars and vans and hundreds of people lined the curbs from the East St. Louis School District 189 offices, where the parade started, to Clyde C. Jordan Stadium, where Harper's hard work and national recognition were praised by speaker after speaker.
Harper was feted by Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the city's other golden female Olympian. Harper won gold in the 100-meter hurdles in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and silver in the same event this summer in London.
Harper said she plans to compete in the Olympic games in 2016 in Rio De Janeiro.
Joyner-Kersee, a friend and mentor, to Harper was beaming as she embraced Harper and talked about her.
"I am so proud of Dawn," Joyner-Kersee said. "She had a solid family behind her, a great coach in Nino Fennoy and at UCLA, where she worked with Bobby Kersee. On top of it all, she comes from East St. Louis. It's a very prideful day."
Then, she turned her comments to the young people and said she hopes they look at Harper and see "that their dreams are possible, too."
"It's all about being committed," Kersee said. "You can never give up on yourself. You must hold on to your dreams. And, when it's your time, you have to be ready."
Harper, wearing her gold and silver Olympic medals around her neck, told the young people that she, not long ago walked down the same halls they are walking right now. She told them her mother, Linda Harper, put a special emphasis on her grades.
"She would not let me run track because of a science grade -- and it was on a progress report not a report card."
Harper also said she was relaxed and confident at the London Olympics.
"I missed the gold by this much," she said pinching her fingers together. "I promise you I gave it my best."
All along the parade route, shouts of "Dawn, you go girl" and "thanks for coming home," could be heard.
Michelle Bowman and Barbara Loveless, who painted "Dawn Harper 2012 Olympics" on their white T-shirts stood at 39th and State streets waving their small American flags. They came out in 2008 when she won the gold medal, they said.
Sisters Aleka Stephens and Aiesha Stephens said they came out to show Harper some love for her accomplishment.
Moesha Lewis, an 11th-grader at East St. Louis Senior High, said she wants to be a lawyer and plans to be like Harper.
"She's a role model to me because of everything she's done," Moesha said. "I look up to her because I like the positive things she does. And, I like her for coming back to her hometown and bringing the spotlight to East St. Louis for something so positive. I am tired of all of the negative stuff we hear about coming out of East St. Louis."
Most of the people carried American flags or wore jackets and hats featuring the stars and stripes.
Members of the Regulators horse club, decked in western outfits, thrilled youngsters as they rode up and down State Street.
East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks Jr., through corporate donations, gave Harper a symbolic key to a house that she gets to pick out in East St. Louis. Parks said the corporate community donated $40,000 toward the house.
"Really," a surprised Harper said.
Joyner-Kersee joked that she might make a comeback if she could get a house like Harper's. Laughing she said, "Not in this lifetime." The crowd loved the joke and roared.
District 189 Superintendent Arthur Culver said he was proud of Harper as was the school district and the city of East St. Louis for her accomplishments as a track and field athlete. "She's not just an athlete. She has integrity. She's an excellent role model. Despite coming from East St. Louis, she showed that you can achieve greatness if you stay true to your dream."
Contact reporter Carolyn P Smith at email@example.com or 239-2503.