Host: Martin Luther King Day made a big post-pandemic comeback in Sarasota, but our changing climate threw up a few challenges. There’s the political climate, for one: Amid a slew of restrictions and prohibitions, the organizers in Sarasota put emphasis on the diversity of this community and on unity. And then there’s the actual climate, which is out of whack: During the one-and-half mile Unity Walk, the marchers had to endure heavy rain in what is nominally dry season in these latitudes. Our news team was there to – pun intended – soak up the atmosphere.
Johannes Werner: The Booker Marching Band and cheerleaders kept up the festive mood of their fellow marchers during a rain-drenched Unity Walk across Sarasota’s Newtown. The cheerleaders, in turn, were cheered on by Fred Atkins, the teacher, long-time community organizer, former mayor, and perennial candidate. With a uncanny sense of time and location, Atkins — dressed in Africa-themed garb — was one of the most visible faces during the Martin Luther King Day celebrations in Sarasota on Monday.
Jetson Grimes chairs the Martin Luther King Day organizing committee. He told WSLR News he estimated there were some 300 marchers, 200 of them students. The organizers’ efforts with the Unity Walk this year focused on the diversity of this community. Schools and police aside, they included religious contingents, from majority African American churches, as well as Unitarians and Quakers. There was also a sizable contingent from WSLR, the community radio station you may be familiar with. The picture was completed with sprinkles of LGBTQ rainbow flags.
Asked why there was no keynote speaker this year, Grimes said the organizers wanted to put the spotlight on the individuals and organizations honored during the memorial breakfast. Which was packed, by the way, and sold out weeks ahead of January 15. Also notable: It came with much improved traffic management to and from the breakfast buffet.
In the vein of the organizers’ intent: The lineup of honorees at the breakfast followed mostly one theme — young people. It began with a youth leader. Aliciana Harvey-Lopez is a senior at Pineview High. She started an organization called “Achieve, Know, Help, Lead”, addressing the needs of her peers. Among many other activities, she is an intern with the Multicultural Health Institute.
Girls Inc., a non-profit with a big footprint in Sarasota, was honored for its youth work. Girls Inc. is encouraging and supporting children and teenagers with academics, health, and life skills. Mirroring this, the next honoree was Brotherhood of Men, which mentors young men. The non-profit was started in 2007 by Dominic Harris, a sergeant with the Sarasota Police Department.
The next organization in the spotlight was MCR Health, a high-visibility, high-impact non-profit with 48 healthcare centers and 19 pharmacies in this region. MCR can be seen frequently in underserved communities, such as farmworkers in DeSoto County. Finally, there was the Manasota ASALH Freedom School. At a moment when African American history is disappearing from the curriculum of public schools, the non-profit this fall began teaching free classes about the history of Africa, the Middle Passage, enslavement, emancipation, the Freedom Movement, and more.
Let’s end with the beginning: The invocation by the Reverend Melvin Christian, with the Church of the Palms.
Melvin Christian:It is due to our appreciation of the dedication to equality, freedom, justice, peace and love, that we honor him. He taught us to have the courage of our convictions, to put aside fear, and to know that each of us, via our actions, can make a difference. We pray that Dr. King’s life will never grow dim, even during dark times, and that he will give us the wisdom to shine a light, be it from candles, flashlights, or cell phone, onto injustice everywhere.
JW: Reporting for WSLR News, this has been Johannes Werner
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