Area events mark birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.
Published: Tuesday, January 21, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 21, 2003 at 12:51 a.m.
Martin Luther King's crusade to end racism made him a hero to all who espoused equality, but it was his philosophy of nonviolence that was most visible at Monday's march in Gainesville.
A flavor of the anti-war movement of the 1960s, which dove-tailed with the civil rights movement, was evident in the banners, signs, petitions and talk opposing the possible war on Iraq.
"The consensus among people putting on Martin Luther King marches is that if he were alive today, he would definitely be against the war on Iraq," said Gainesville resident Brenda Bayne of the Community Coalition against War and Terrorism. Bayne and others wore T-shirts with a quote from King - "War is not the answer."
The program at the Downtown Community Plaza and march from there to the King Center near Citizens Field was one of several events in Gainesville celebrating King's birthday Monday. A King memorial was also held in Chiefland and was especially aimed at children.
Alachua County Commissioner Rodney Long, a key organizer of the King events in Gainesville, said if King were alive today he would be trying to fend off a United States invasion of Iraq.
"On the question of war, he would certainly be on the global stage to try to bring those world leaders to the table to find a peaceful resolve to war. Dr. King was a person of nonviolent social change and I think if he were alive today he would be certainly a major player in global affairs," Long said. "I would see him as being a peace ambassador similar to Jimmy Carter. Most people don't know Dr. King, especially our young people. They don't know all the precepts and principles he espoused. It's good for young people to see (anti-war) signs and learn how Dr. King espoused nonviolence."
A special message
Hawthorne High School student Wenona Mary-Rose DeCastro, the featured speaker and 2003 Keeper of the Dream recipient, said her generation takes for granted rights such as free speech and freedom of worship that King and others fought so hard for.
DeCastro has a special message for young women.
"I was born a female long before I understood what it was to be an African-American and I must say this to my sisters . . . we must stick together. We cannot allow the petty things such as hairstyles, cheating boyfriends or unplanned pregnancies to divide us," she said. "How can we come together as a community and put our talents to work? How can we use them to shape our future? The first step is that we must keep ourselves informed. Secondly, we must not languish in complacency."
Officials said several hundred people attended the program and the march in Gainesville.
Focus on the future
In Chiefland the holiday was focused on celebration and prayer, with all of the scheduled events planned to include children.
This is the second year the Essence Women Club has sponsored a King Day Festival at Eddie Buie Park. The theme for this year was "Enjoying the dream," according to club President Alice Monyei.
"We heard his speech. We know what his dream was. Now we are living it," Monyei said.
Club members said they received tremendous support from businesses and individuals around the city to provide prizes, lunch, awards and anything else they needed for the daylong event. Competitive activities included things such as sack races for the youngest participants and softball games for the oldest. Entertainment focused on praise dancers from local churches and step dances from around the community.
Reason to celebrate
The reason for the day off from school and the special event was not lost on the children.
"We celebrate Martin Luther King day because we've got our freedom and this is a day to show how free we are," said JaRobyn Rome, 11, a fifth-grader at Chiefland Elementary School. "We can come here and be free to play our own games in our own way."
Cindy Swirko can be reached at 374-5024 or swirkoc@ gvillesun.com.
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