Keeping the dream alive


Participants in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day march progress along E. University Avenue on Monday afternoon.

JARRETT BAKER/Special to The Sun
Published: Tuesday, January 22, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 21, 2008 at 10:24 p.m.

A historic election and unique opportunity to vote on Martin Luther King Jr. Day provided the backdrop to the commemoration of the holiday Monday in Gainesville.

Facts

MLK events

The Gainesville/Alachua County commemorative celebration to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. continues through February. The theme this year is "Justice for All.''

Wednesday

Coretta Scott King Observance Program, 7 p.m., Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, 718 SE 11th St. (Waldo Road) with speaker Vanessa Douyon, membership vice president, Florida Cicerones/SAAUF. Contact: Marie D. Small, (352) 335-0572.

Ebony Fashion Show, 8 p.m., Lincoln Middle School, 1001 SE 12th St. Tickets: $25. Contact: Verna Johnson, (352) 372-1004.

Thursday

Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies: "Pampering the Brothers Health Forum, Part II," 7 p.m. Alachua Co. Health Department auditorium, 228 SE 24th St. with facilitator, Cynthia Moore Chestnut. Contact: Marie D. Small, (352) 335-0572.

Saturday

Centennial Celebration, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., 11:30 a.m. Paramount Plaza Hotel and Suites, 2900 SW 13th St. Tickets: $25. Contact: Yvonne C. Rawls, (352) 372-0246.

POST-KING WEEK EVENTS

Sunday

Gainesville Alumnae Chapter Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. Founders Day Celebration, 11 a.m., Fort Clarke Missionary Baptist Church, 9121 NW 8th Ave. Contact: Yvonne Hughes, (352) 332-2967 or Barbara Henry, (352) 332-1024.

Feb. 9

Women In Religion, 9 a.m., Hilton University of Florida Conference Center, 1714 SW 34th St. Tickets: $30. Contact: Sarah Richardson, (352) 378-7928.

Feb. 10

"Out of the Past," 4 p.m., Springhill Baptist Church, 120 SE Williston Road.

Feb. 24

Ebony Appreciation Awards Banquet, 3 p.m. Place: TBA Contact: Bernadette Woody, (352) 337-0720.

Speakers and participants in events downtown said the election was evidence of King's legacy, but continued inequality in education, health care and income showed the work that remains.

LeNonar Elaina Walton, a senior at Buchholz High School, called for young people to honor the efforts of civil rights leaders by taking responsibility for themselves and taking advantage of educational opportunities.

"Don't sit around and wait for someone to open doors for you," she said in a rousing speech to a crowd of several hundred at the Downtown Community Plaza. "Follow the example of our ancestors and kick those doors down."

Walton received the 2008 Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream scholarship, given each year to a young adult who exemplifies the qualities of King's work. Her speech was part of events downtown that included a march down University Avenue, a gospel program and efforts to register voters and encourage early voting.

Because Florida moved up its presidential primary to Jan. 29, the King holiday for the first time coincided with the opportunity for early voting. Nearly 240 voters cast ballots at a downtown site for early voting by 2 p.m., about twice as many during any one day last week, said Pam Carpenter, Alachua County Supervisor of Elections.

Some voters mentioned the presence of Barack Obama on the Democratic primary ballot as a reason for their eagerness to vote. The presence of an African-American candidate on the ballot has energized voters, said Larry McDaniel, vice chairman of the African American Accountability Alliance.

"It has instilled a sense of pride in people of color," he said.

University of Florida student Shmarcos Broughton, 20, said he took the opportunity to update his voter registration at a booth at the King Day event. He said the candidacy of Obama and fellow Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has elevated the election in the eyes of many of his classmates.

"This election is going to go down in history," he said.

But participants in the King Day events cautioned that the election should not be taken as proof that King's dream has been realized. Florida Rep. Chuck Chestnut IV, D-Gainesville, said that incomes for minorities have fallen as costs for utilities and other essentials continue to rise.

"Let's get real and let's get serious - nothing has really changed in 40 years," he said.

Inequality in education remains a major issue in Gainesville and beyond, said Ed Jennings Jr. of Gainesville, a former state representative. While UF is an example of diversity at work, he said, beyond its walls are Alachua County public schools with a graduation rate of 37 percent among African-American boys and 47 percent among African-American girls.

"It's easy to look at the University of Florida and say we're there," he said.

Alachua County Commissioner Rodney Long said a shift in housing patterns toward western Alachua County can be linked to inequality in schools. He recalled being part of the forced busing that integrated schools in 1970, but said the recent debate over rezoning school districts has shown that a lack of diversity remains a problem.

"What it begins to do is create a tale of two cities," he said.

Instilling young people with a sense of pride is a major part of reversing inequality, said Jauelin Strappy, founder of Destiny'z Child Mentorship program. She brought 46 girls from the program to the event, saying she wanted to teach them the example of King and other civil rights leaders.

"Kids feel entitled," she said. "We want them to understand the price people paid."

UF graduate student Desiree Wright, 22, said the event provided a unique opportunity to bring people together to hear such a message. She said people so rarely gather in large groups that it is a challenge to reach them.

"The problem is getting people together and getting people informed," she said.

Walton said young people need to take responsibility for themselves and not blame others for their problems. She recalled the legacy of civil rights leaders who were jailed and beaten, saying students who don't graduate from high school or don't take their studies seriously are failing to live up to that legacy.

"By taking our education for granted, we as a generation are committing a crime," she said.

Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 352-338-3176 or crabben@gville sun.com.

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