Vanessa Wyche (Mark Mulligan/ via AP)

Mayor Sylvester Turner, Black Heritage Society leadership and several others announced Vanessa E. Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, as this year’s grand marshal for Houston’s 44th Original MLK Day Parade.

Amid calls of potential MLK Day protests for voting rights, Houston’s 2022 MLK parade is being touted as a tangible manifestation of the city’s sense of unity.

More specifically, solidarity amid the city’s diversity was heralded as one of Houston’s greatest strengths and appeared to be the organizing principle around which many of the key decisions about Houston’s upcoming Original MLK Jr. Day Parade were made, including the choice of grand marshal.

Wyche is the first African American to lead NASA’s Johnson Space Center and the first African American woman to lead any NASA center.

“January 17 is a time for our country and our community to honor Dr. King and his life’s work which he dedicated to equality and equity in areas like affordable housing, health care, equity, and voting rights,” said Turner. “This year’s parade grand marshal is someone who truly represents the best of Houston and reflects the dreams and soaring achievement Dr. King championed. By working together, there are no limits to what we can achieve.”

“We thought long and hard about who we could focus on that would reflect the struggles that we’ve had in the past, and at the same time, speak to the present and the future in terms of where we are going. We thought that NASA with Vanessa Wyche as the director of the NASA Johnson Space Center, reflected that,” shared Turner.

The mayor added that this year’s parade would also serve as a vehicle to honor African American astronauts who have, or will be going into space, including Robert Satcher, Bernard Harris, Mae Jemison and Jessica Watkins, who will be the first Black woman to join the international space station. 

Wyche spoke to Turner’s point about inspiration after sharing with those gathered at the press conference via Zoom how humbled and “super excited” she was to be named the parade’s grand marshal. She then surprised many by announcing that NASA is planning another trip to the moon.

“I just want you to know that this year NASA’s Johnson Space Center is celebrating our 60th anniversary right here in Houston,” said Wyche. “We stand on a legacy going all the way to Apollo Shuttle and now with our commercial launches to the international space station. And we are just excited because we’re going to return to the moon, but this time we are going to do it differently. We’re going to be doing it with commercial partners. We’re going to do it with international partners and we will have the first woman and the first person of color to land on the moon.”

The parade with be held on Jan. 17 at 10am in downtown Houston. Parade sponsors include ATT, Radio One, and Allegiance Bank. Claude Cummings, Jr., Regional Vice President, Communications Workers of America (CWA), Gilbert Andrew Garcia, CFA, Managing Partner, and Al Kashani, President, Horizon United Group will serve as co-grand marshals.