King Week focuses on health issues


Published: Saturday, January 6, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 6, 2007 at 12:28 a.m.

King Week is on its way to becoming King Month.

For the first time in 22 years, Gainesville's annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy spans 11 days, from Monday to Jan. 19. The extension is a step toward the MLK Commission of Florida's goal of creating a month-long event, says Rodney Long, commission president.

The theme for King Week 2007 is "Empowerment for the Next Decade: Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies," bringing to focus health care issues affecting African-Americans, especially men.

"Men in particular and African-Americans more specifically have the worst track record in reference to health care issues," Long says.

Events such as a men's health forum and a keynote speech by Dr. Cynthia Moore Chestnut, director of education and community outreach at UF Shands Eastside Community Practice, will emphasize the importance of preventative health care for such problems as high cholesterol, diabetes and prostate cancer.

The theme goes hand-in-hand with the commission's commitment to education.

"We want to empower people to help themselves," Long says. "To be able to do that, you have to arm them with information."

One example is Thursday's Black History and Cultural Brain Bowl, which helps educate more than 40 participating middle- and high-school students about their heritage.

Event coordinator Cynthia Mingo hopes the several months of preparation for the contest will give them "a sense of value knowing that we've made lots of contributions to the nation."

"Even the parents are learning," Mingo says. "Everyone is being empowered."

Additional events include a Hall of Fame banquet Jan. 14 and a Jan. 15 holiday kick-off program. The late Hertercene Turner Dee, an avid volunteer and former nurse who passed away in July, will be inducted into the MLK Commission's Hall of Fame. DeAdria Aneese Hilliard, a senior at Buchholz High School and this year's recipient of the Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream Award, will speak at the Jan. 15 holiday kick-off program.

With the events of King Week and others scattered throughout January and February, Alachua County joins many communities around the country that extend the celebration beyond Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a holiday first observed by the federal government in 1986. For Long, who was a child during King's civil rights movement, it's an important way to continue the leader's legacy.

"Regardless of color," Long says, "we are all better because of Dr. King and the others who believe in non-violent social change."

Sarah Stewart can be reached at 338-3103 or Sarah.Stewart@gvillesun.com

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