Running shoes laced up, a crisp breeze to keep cool, and smiles lit up all up and down Gainesville’s University Avenue and Waldo Road. This was the scene at Monday’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemorative march in Gainesville.
“I want to be supportive of civil rights and everything that went on,” said John Tees, a Gainesville resident who attended the events for the first time this year. “A lot of people made a lot of sacrifices and I just wanted to be part of it. It was a great march.”From grandparents to college students and even little children, people from all backgrounds and walks of life came together for a common goal — to celebrate the life of a man who fought hard for equality.
Rodney Long, president and founder of the MLK Commission of Florida, Inc., agreed saying that today was a celebration amongst many.
“Today should be a day that we all commemorate a great man who did great things for all of us,” Long said.
Long also said that he is pleased with the way both the commission and the community have continued to promote the legacy that King so passionately expounded upon.
A sentiment echoed by University of Florida student Jayce Victor who is proud to carry on what he sees as one of the most significant aspects of King’s legacy — his service to the community.“There’s a lot of people from all over the world here that go to the University of Florida so I don’t know if there’s much of a bigger stage — might be some bigger cities — but you’ve got people from all over the world here and it just makes it… You come together for something like this and it’s a good feeling,” said Victor.
The march started at the Bo Diddley Plaza in downtown Gainesville and ended at the MLK Multipurpose Center on Waldo Road.
The MLK Commission held a gospel music rally at the center, following the march. After coming to the event for over 10 years, 77-year-old Margaret Reynolds said she believes everyone that can come, should.
“Martin Luther King said to us that one day we would be free,” she said. “We are free. We are living together. Black, white, Hispanic and all are living together. We are free and I love this event.”
The commission also granted three Gainesville students, varying from middle school to high school, scholarships during the celebration and remembrance of King.
Raven Delk, 17 and a senior at Buchholz High School, received the Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream Scholarship Award, an award based on a student’s academic success and involvement within the community.
Delk volunteered at homeless shelters, packed food for people in Haiti and served as a summer camp counselor. She also previously worked in children’s churches and participated in pageants in order to be a role model for younger children.
Delk plans to use the scholarship funds, totaling $7,500 over a four-year period, for college with the goal to graduate with no debt. Like many high school seniors, though, she is not sure about what she would like to do after college but plans to preserve King’s legacy in the younger generation.
The march and music rally aren’t the end of local MLK commemorative festivities. There are more events going on until the end of the month, sponsored by the University of Florida multicultural and diversity affairs program in the Division of Student Affairs. Visit UFMLK.org for details on upcoming events.
Brooke Austill contributed to this report.