Progress report: First black president, but work remains


Participants walk down East University Avenue during the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative March sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida on Monday.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 18, 2010 at 11:14 p.m.

Nearly a year after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, Gainesville's Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemoration provided an opportunity to reflect on the achievements and unfinished work of the civil rights movement.

The day's activities included a march, gospel program and downtown events that included speeches on King's legacy. Eastside High School senior Benjamin Osoba contrasted the integration of schools and election of Obama with continued educational and economic disparities.

"Yes, we have made progress, but the job's not done yet," he said.

The 17-year-old Osoba is this year's recipient of the Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream Award, a scholarship given annually by the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida. An event at the Bo Diddley Downtown Community Plaza featured an update on past award winners, which include business leaders, academics and attorneys.

A separate program at the King memorial garden honored Dan Harmeling, inducted this year into the commission's hall of fame. Harmeling spoke of coming to the University of Florida as a student in 1963, during a time when segregated businesses were still the norm.

The election of a black president "could only have been a dream in 1963, and today we are living that dream," he said.

Harmeling recounted his participation in the civil rights movement, including his arrest for picketing a segregated theater in Tallahassee. He paid tribute to other student leaders who also fought segregationist policies at businesses and faced retribution from UF officials.

"We celebrate Gainesville's history of this activism," he said.

Alachua County Commissioner Rodney Long discussed plans to redesign the King memorial to make it more accessible to the public. The plans, which will be formally unveiled at an April 1 event marking King's assassination, include a reflecting pool and kiosk with information on members of the commission's hall of fame.

At the community plaza, past Keeper of the Dream award winner Adria Kiara Green recalled attending the Obama inauguration last year around this time. She celebrated his election as a civil rights accomplishment, but said high incarceration and dropout rates among blacks were among the problems that still needed to be addressed.

She called on the hundreds in attendance to find a way to give back to the community.

"Pick your niche, because we have a long way to go," she said.

The earthquake in Haiti provided a backdrop to the event, with groups collecting donations. Gainesville Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan urged the crowd to donate money or time to the relief effort.

"This is what it means to be an American - to reach out to those in need," she said.

Osoba said the King holiday shouldn't be the only time people think about making a commitment to service. He called on members of the crowd to join him in a chant pledging to serve the community in any way that they can.

"It is a lifestyle choice, a commitment," he said.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com.

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