On the eve of the celebration of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., people of all ages, races, and religions rapidly fill New St. John Baptist Church. They were gathered to celebrate the accomplishments and civil rights initiatives of King at the Ocala church on Sunday evening.
“[Events like this] remind us of where we’ve come from and let us know where we are going,” said 16-year-old Derek Ponders, an usher at the church.
The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Commission Committee of Ocala organized the special service in preparation for the annual march in remembrance of him.
The committee chose the Rev. Joy Gallmon, of the Mount Pisgah African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lake City, to speak at the event.
“I’m proud of my country that we’ve set this day aside to remind us of what was and the possibility of what could be when our nation comes together and presses forward for the good of all mankind,” Gallmon said.
More than 50 years have passed since Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his renowned “I Have a Dream” speech, and minorities are still sadly crippled, she said. Even though America has come a long way since the days of Martin Luther King, Jr., her sermon stressed there is still much work to be done.
“I am not a part of a generation that bares the psychological scars of “whites only” signs, but I do know what it’s like to be stopped on 241 at 10 p.m. by a cop who used inappropriate language in front of me and my child,” Gallmon said during the sermon.
It is important for the younger generations to “catch the vision and the dream” of Martin Luther King, Jr., to understand their purpose, and to give back to the community, she explained in an interview. They must move forward for themselves and for future generations.
Gallmon said she enjoyed that the committee intentionally involved young people.
As a part of the community-wide celebration, the Lake Weir High School choir delivered the musical accompaniment for the evening. Erica Williams, who is pursuing a master’s degree in music at the University of Florida, also had a solo performance at the event.
In addition to members of New St. John’s, Mount Pisgah AME, and the Ocala community, members of the Fort King Presbyterian Church came together on a bus to the commemorative service.
Steve and Doris Charleston, members of the Presbyterian church, said they decided to attend the event to show their love for God.
“Martin Luther King did what Jesus would do. He just wanted love for everyone, and that is something that is desperately needed in the world today,” Steve said.
The march will take place at the MLK Recreational Complex at 1510 N.W. Fourth St. in Ocala, Fla. The line up will begin at 8 a.m. and the march will start promptly at 9 a.m. Following the march, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Commission Committee encourages everyone to take part in Ocala’s annual Day at the Park, which will take place from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
“I’m going to be there,” Derek Ponders said. “I march every year.”