By Wayne Alexander, Board Chairman, MLK Celebration Committee
Thousands in the Fort Lauderdale community celebrated the King Holiday at events hosted by the Dr. Martin Luther King Celebration Committee (MLKCC). The celebration started Jan. 15, 2016. The MLKCC, along with the Early Learning Coalition, hosted 80 three- to five-year-olds from local day care centers for a birthday celebration for Dr. King at the African American Research Library and Cultural Center. The inquisitive toddlers enjoyed a storyteller who related the story of Dr. King, an interactive musical performance with African drumming and dance and an arts and crafts project where the youth made a crown-like headpiece with a picture of Dr. King. The birthday celebration culminated with birthday cupcakes. Later that day, in spite of an all-day down-pour and Tornado Watch, 30 hardy prayer warriors, including School Board member, Dr. Rosalind Osgood and Westside Gazette Publisher, Bobby Henry, volunteered from M.A.R.K., a non-profit youth organization, Rev. James Polk from New Day Life Ministry and Minister Jaye Benning from Redeeming Word Christian Center International came out to Lincoln Park for the “Time For Prayer… Time for Togetherness” event. Powerful prayers and testimonials for unity, transformation and redemption were offered to break the chains of oppression, racism and drug abuse in the Black community in the manner of an old fashioned prayer worship service that was truly spiritually uplifting.
On Saturday, the MLKCC committee hosted the Sixth Annual MLK Young Leaders Summit at the African American Research Library and Cultural Center. This summit focused on two issues that are profoundly affecting youth and young adults in the Black community. The morning session of the summit featured a panel discussion on race, moderated by Westside Gazette Publisher, Bobby Henry and included panelists Dr. Rudy Jean-Bart, professor at Broward College; radio host Blanche Williams, who is also president of Greatness by Design, LLC that specializes in team performance and leadership development; and Plantation High students, Christine McGee and Brandon Robinson.
The panel engaged the youth in an extended dialogue on race that revealed a number of common threads, including an overwhelming pride in their blackness; a hunger for increased education in black history; and a quest to define ‘blackness’ in their own terms. The afternoon session of the summit focused on the dangers of the use of the synthetic drug Flakka. The summit ended with step team and spoken word performances, as well as a duet by two Plantation High School Mentoring Tomorrow’s Leaders (MTL ) students Alicia Aristil and Alyssa Harp..
On Monday, January 18, the MLKCC committee presented the annual King Holiday Parade and Unity March along a new route. While the route change raised the concern of a number of community leaders and residents, nevertheless, more than 80 different businesses, organizations and school bands participated in the parade, making the 2016 King Holiday Parade, one of the largest in the history of King Parades in Fort Lauderdale. The new route started at NW 5th Avenue and Sistrunk Boulevard and proceeded east to Andrews Avenue and south on Andrews Avenue to Huizenga Plaza in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Many in the Sistrunk community were concerned that the new parade route had removed the parade from the Black community. However, it served to extend the Black community.
The parade ended at Huizenga Plaza and was followed by the Celebration of Unity Multicultural Festival at the plaza on the river. Close to three thousand enjoyed the afternoon that featured multicultural performances from the Kuumba Dance Academy, the Mesoamerican Spark Dance Ensemble, the Sticks and Tones Steel Pan Drummers, the Melo Afro-Caribbean Dancers, the Haitian Experience from Northside Elementary School, the Lee Koon Kung Fu Academy as well as vocal performances from Sazzy Singz, Icheci and the Sisters of Soul. In addition to the on stage performances, the MLKCC committee offered those in attendance an opportunity to volunteer in A Day of Service Project, assembling 600 ‘love unity bags’ with educational materials for homeless children as well as an opportunity to make an audio-visual recording of their thoughts on race.
In spite of the concerns in the change of the parade route and the outdoor festival, the 2016 King Holiday Celebration in many aspects was one of the more successful in recent history. A number of community and city leaders expressed their support and encouragement on stage during the Celebration and praised the MLKCC committee for the initiative to make the King Holiday Celebration more inclusive.