Gainesville Celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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In celebration of civil rights and Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, the city of Gainesville came together Monday afternoon to serve and to march.

Volunteers helped out at St. Francis House and community members marched from City Hall to the Martin Luther King Multi-Purpose Center.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service

Donning a hair net and rubber gloves, Joseph Peralta, a 19-year-old University of Florida environmental science sophomore, spent the day serving up salad and pasta at the St Francis House. He said he signed up for the opportunity through UF’s Center for Leadership and Service because he liked the way the center approached the day of no classes.

“It’s a day on,” he said, “not a day off.”

At 9:30 a.m., around 12 volunteers from the CLS arrived at St. Francis House and were assigned tasks from providing administrative assistance to sorting donated food in the shelter’s pantry. Peralta was assigned to serve food, and by10:30 a.m. he had already scooped salad and handed out sweets to more than 30 visitors.

“Homeless people receive a lot of stigma,” he said. “You just have to see them as other people who have hit a rough spot.”

Bart Jansen, a 64-year-old St. Francis House visitor, said that while today is a special day, he thinks the extra help is more of an obligation.

“I think that’s their duty,” he said. “They’re supposed to help people who need to be helped out.”

National Holiday Kick-Off

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech blared as a crowd of about 300 people assembled for the National Holiday Kick-Off today at noon on the steps of Gainesville City Hall. As the program began, the crowd stood for the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.”

“Let us march on ‘til victory is won,” they sang in unison.

Nadia Thomas, the 2016 Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream award recipient was the keynote speaker at the kick-off.

“I might not be a pastor, a writer or a Civil Rights activist, but I am a strong and determined young woman who deserves to be heard,” she said.

“I think it is safe to say that his dream did come to pass,” Thomas said. “As I look around, I see a crowd diffused with a multitude of colors standing together in harmony and unity.”

Following the event’s theme, “Changing the Agenda: Don’t Talk About It, Be About It,” Thomas spoke about the Black Lives Matter movement and how Dr. King would stand for neither the police nor black-on-black brutality that still exists today, stating “justice did not roll down like water” for Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown or Sandra Bland.

“I’m not a politician and I do not have all the answers,” she said as she concluded her speech. “But as Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’”

As part of her reward, the 18-year-old Gainesville High School senior received a $10,000 check from the event’s corporate sponsors: McDonald’s, the Gainesville Office of Equal Opportunity, Cox Communications and Waste Corporation of America.

Omar Oselimo, the owner of Reggae Shack Café, attended the kick-off and march. He said that, despite what some may think, Dr. King’s legacy is for everyone.

“I think when people see stuff about Martin Luther King, they think it’s a defense of black people when it’s a legacy of all of us,” he said. “You might be from a different ethnic group, a different gender, different beliefs, religion, or whatever and feel like, ‘This is not my cause.’ This is a human cause. This affects all of us.”

Oselimo referenced the saying, “What happens to the least among us will eventually happen to us all,” and said the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. is a “reminder for people to wake up.”

“No matter who you are, no matter what’s your race, what’s your gender, what’s your beliefs, wake up,” he said. “One day, it’s gonna be you.”

Before they lined up to march about a mile and a half from City Hall to the Martin Luther King Multi-Purpose Center, the crowd joined hands, swayed, and sang: “We shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome some day…”

About Melissa Smith

I am a journalism and sustainability studies student at the University of Florida.

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