Community celebrates MLK Jr. Day at Bo Diddley


Left to right, Ericka Jackson, her daughter Kailani Jackson, 6, Betz Ronan, 5, her dad John Ronan, and brother, Daniel Ronana 5, join the community in celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Bo Diddley Downtown Community Plaza in Gainesville, Fla., Monday, January 21, 2013.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, January 21, 2013 at 3:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 21, 2013 at 3:18 p.m.

Wearing a Gators ball cap with an “I voted” sticker clinging to the inside of the bill, 67-year-old Robert Minniefield marched down University Avenue recalling the time when the sidewalk was a luxury.

“I remember when I had to step off the sidewalk when certain people would walk by,” he said, walking along the route of Monday's commemorative march in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On the same day as President Barack Obama's second inauguration, hundreds of area residents gathered for the King celebration.

Ericka Jackson, 38, listened to recordings of King's speeches with her 6-year-old daughter Kailani before the kickoff program began at the Bo Diddley Community Plaza.

She said the day was about remembering for those who were alive to experience King's leadership during the civil rights movement, and learning for those who weren't.

“He fought so hard … How can I not come out and support,” she said.

Kailani said she learned that King was an important reason why everyone can drink from the same water fountain.

“He was a preacher,” she said. “He was a teacher.”

Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe greeted the crowd at Bo Diddley with comments about how racism and intolerance are still concerns in this age, then he transitioned to speaking about the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the Sanford youth who was killed by a neighborhood watch coordinator under unclear circumstances. The shooter, George Zimmerman, has claimed self-defense and is facing murder charges in the case.

He then spoke out against gun violence, citing several high-profile shootings, including the most recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., as examples of why gun reform is needed.

“My right to own a gun does not outweigh your right to live,” he said.

Lamont Wallace, a student at Gainesville High School who won an oratorical award sponsored by event organizers, said he saw King's dream playing out on his TV screen during the BCS National Championship game a few weeks ago.

“I saw the black kids and white kids playing. I saw them in the crowd hugging and kissing,” he said. “And I said, ‘Isn't that part of the dream?' ”

Ariannah Jennings, 10, played with her friends in the grass before the crowd poured onto University Avenue for the march to the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center.

She talked with her friends about how she learned that black and white people used to be separated most of the time, until King made a difference.

“Now that's all changed, because of him,” she said.

Her friend Savanna Beauregard, 10, agreed.

“Now black and white people can be together,” she said.

At around 1 p.m., hundreds marched about a mile and a half to the rec center. Spontaneous reunions sprung up all around as old friends caught up. Some groups sang hymns as they walked.

Ryan Azeem, a 19-year-old accounting sophomore at UF, walked with his Phi Beta Sigma brothers, a historically black fraternity.

Azeem said the holiday reminds him that people can come together for a common cause and that one person can make a difference.

“We're here to carry out his legacy,” he said.

Minniefield walked with his two grandsons, smiling as he thought about the questions they had asked him earlier.

He later said it's important to keep teaching the youth about King's message of equality and justice.

“It's important,” he said. “Just the way people treat each other.”

Sun correspondent Alli Langley contributed to this report.

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