King parade marchers urged to "get busy"

The Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Annual Commemorative March walks down University Avenue in Gainesville, Fla., on Monday, January 16, 2012.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, January 16, 2012 at 6:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:08 p.m.

Hundreds of area residents marched down University Avenue on Monday as part of a daylong commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Organizers urged attendees to "remember, celebrate and act" upon the civil rights leader's legacy, but community members said more action needs to be taken as east Gainesville loses business.

The day isn't one for marching, then heading home and relaxing, said former Alachua County Commissioner Rodney Long.

"It's about rolling up our sleeves and getting busy in our community," he said.

Long serves as the president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida, which inducted two community members into its hall of fame.

Pat Fitzpatrick, an advocate for the homeless, and Eastside High School student Jennifer Kizza were honored at a ceremony at the MLK Jr. Memorial Garden outside City Hall.

Fitzpatrick, who brought a "Feed Everybody" sign to the induction, said no person should ever go hungry.

"I don't understand capitalism, but why don't they pay the people who make the products enough to buy the products they make?" he said, recalling time he spent with migrant farmworkers.

The road to equality is long, said Gainesville resident and marcher Shirley McNish.

"I think we're at a slow standstill," she said. "Progress is slow."

That is evident just blocks away from the parade route, which started at the Bo Diddley Community Plaza and ended near Citizens Field. For years, local government has attempted to lure private investment to the Waldo Road corridor and residents have complained there are few areas to shop and eat.

Food Lion announced last week it would be closing its store near Southeast 24th Street next month.

McNish said more needs to be done to ensure residents are fed and can find adequate housing and employment.

Gainesville residents suffer not only from poverty, but "poverty of spirit," said Robin Lewy. That isn't limited to the low-income.

"We have to keep tipping the scale so everyone has the same access and opportunity," she said.

But it's not just a matter of reaching out, said India Solomon, a University of Florida student.

"It's also a matter of taking that hand," she said as people stood along Waldo Road in front of housing developments watching the parade go by.

Solomon said that if people don't take the opportunities afforded them, those resources will go to waste.

Tarcha Rentz walked the parade route with her three children. That morning, they read about King, she said.

"I wanted them to have a chance to re-enact it as well," she said. Ian, a first-grader, peppered her with questions along the route.

Rentz said the community is doing a fair job of marking the holiday, but wanted to see more partnerships and collaboration to ensure the future prosperity of Gainesville.

"I want the community to come together and come up with some solutions that are viable for not only us, but the next generation," she said. "I think that's what Dr. King would want."

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