Rain soaks Martin Luther King Day events in Gainesville

New kiosks unveiled and winners of Hall of Fame Awards recognized

Mayor Craig Lowe and youth from the Reichert House lead the annual march down University Avenue during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day ceremony beginning at the Bo Diddley Downtown Plaza, Monday, January 17, 2011 in Gainesville, Fla.

Erica Brough/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 12:35 a.m.

Just like it did 25 years ago for the first Martin Luther King Day celebration in Gainesville, rain soaked Monday's participants as the MLK Commission of Florida unveiled three new kiosks in the MLK Memorial Garden at City Hall.


King's letter

To read Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's "Letter From a Birmingham Jail," go to:

"Regardless of the conditions, rain or shine, we have to come out and remember the things they went through so we'd have our freedoms," Alachua County Commissioner Rodney Long said of civil rights protesters from the 1950s and 1960s. "None of us are under threat of fire hoses or police dogs."

As the raindrops pattered on a collection of wide umbrellas gathered in the memorial garden, Long recognized this year's winners of the commission's Hall of Fame Awards:

* Ruth Brown and the late Steve Brown, who battled racism and worked for civil rights throughout their 67-year marriage, including marching with King in 1963 in Washington, D.C., and from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in 1965.

* Father John Gillespie, who has worked for homeless rights.

"I didn't think I'd get emotional, but I really miss my father," said Diana McPherson, the Browns' daughter, as she recalled her father, who died last year. "They were in it for the long haul, and they kept their eyes on the prize of social change during their 67-year partnership."

Gillespie has advocated for the rights of the homeless at St. Francis House and against what one organizer called the "arbitrary and mean-spirited 130-meal limit." He recalled King's letter from the Birmingham Jail to eight white ministers, asking them why they weren't in jail with him. He also quoted from Soviet prisoner Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

"If we're going to make a change in our social structure, it must start in the hearts of each one of us," Gillespie said.

Long then read off the names of every Gainesville resident who helped to create the garden and the monument to King at its center.

He also listed those who helped to build the three kiosks, which house the names and photographs of the Hall of Fame winners, the winners of the Edna Hart Scholarship and those who are continuing civil rights work in Gainesville.

The participants pulled the blue tarps to unveil the kiosks, built by Santa Fe College's Construction and Technical Program students along with city of Gainesville workers.

"We're very proud of it," said Jane Parkin, director of Santa Fe's construction and technical program.

Benjamin Osoba, 18, received last year's Edna Hart Scholarship, worth $7,500. He is attending Norfolk State University in Virginia, where he is majoring in electrical engineering, but he flew to Gainesville for the weekend's activities.

"It really meant a lot because I know how special it is and prestigious," Osoba said. For kids who didn't make it to Monday's celebration, he had a message: "Stay focused, stay true to yourself, keep God first, and you'll be blessed, too."

Taonga Leslie of Eastside High School is this year's scholarship winner.

Contact Kimberly C. Moore at kimberly.moore@nytrng.com or 374-5036.

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