Community programs celebrate Dr. King holiday
In keeping with the nationwide theme of “Living The Dream Starts With Me,” both Franklin and Gulf counties marked the observance of Monday’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday with walks down the main public street, followed by a program to celebrate the legacy of the famed civil rights leader.
Beginning at 11 a.m. Reid Avenue and Dr. David Langston Drive in Port St. Joe saw a “Walking Together Parade” that culminated in a program celebration at the George Washington High School gymnasium.
In Apalachicola, a motorcade from the Holy Family Senior Center preceded the 11 a.m. program at the Fort Coombs Armory, and once the program concluded, attendees walked down Market Street to the county courthouse, where the singing of “We Shall Overcome” and a closing prayer was conducted.
The program at the Armory, organized by the 12-member celebration advisory board directed by Delores Hayward-Croom, was highlighted by an impassioned keynote address by Dr. Roderick Robinson, Jr., who grew up in Apalachicola to become an educator and for the past five years, pastor of Greater Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee.
Opening his remarks softly, Robinson outlined King’s legacy in detail, noting that he had been jailed 29 times during the civil rights struggle. “It was a testament to what it means to push and persevere in the face of opposition,” he said.
He drew on Biblical imagery, such as the rainbow that followed Noah’s ark and the rod that Moses wielded before pharaoh, to stress that God sends a sign to underscore his promise.
“There’s always been a sign on how to navigate our roadblocks,” Robinson said.
It was then that the pastor pivoted, in rising tones, of his message that it is essential not to limit King’s message to the merely idealistic tone of his famed speech in the nation’s capital.
“Be careful not to place his life and legacy in the ‘I have a dream’ box,” he said. “It’s more than what they diminish you to. His work and his articulating of speeches transcend the ‘I have a dream.’ box.”
Robinson then culminated his speech with a recitation of today’s challenges, from mass incarceration of Black men, to discrepancies in education to police brutality to Black-on-Black crime, punctuating his remarks with the phrase “we’ve got to see it through.”
The audience offered Robinson a standing ovation, the high point of a program that opened with the presentation of colors by the Franklin County High School Cadet Core, just as the one in Port St. Joe had opened with an appearance by the high school chapter of the National Junior ROTC.
Elder Willie Ash of Victory Temple First Born Holiness Church served as emcee at Port St. Joe’s celebration, which had the theme of “It Starts With Me: Shifting the cultural climate through the study and practice of Kingian nonviolence.”
Ash offered a prayer for all humanity, and Master Jamal Darling, II gave the welcome.
“This year, instead of taking the day off, what if we all took action to make the world a better place?” he said. “Taking steps to better our community is an important way to honor Dr. King, who dedicated his life to taking action that affected the entire nation.
The big changes Dr. King sought certainly did not come in one day. But small changes through education, equal opportunity, voting rights, volunteering, and spreading awareness of Dr. King’s work can lead to a better future for us all, especially the children.”
Following the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance by Ricardo Clemmons, Jr., Legend Register and Halaya Underwood, Cora L. McNair Curtis, the coordinator of the parade and program Coordinator introduced the three-member panel who discussed how the communities are impacted, with an emphasis on pros and cons, needed improvements, and ideas to better the community.
Taking part were Sandy Quinn, Jr., youth pastor at New Life Christian Center and county commissioner for District 4; the Rev. Kenneth Frame, pastor of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church and chaplain at the Quincy Police Department; and the Rev. Marvin Davis, pastor of Thompson Temple First Born Holiness Church and Gulf County school board member for District 4.
A tribute in songs was provided by FreshStart V.I.P. Ensemble, followed by a free lunch for all in attendance.
“Thank you to everyone for the part you played in making this celebration a success,” said McNair Curtis. “Your presence, support, and participation made this event even more special and memorable. To all of our patrons and volunteers, thank you for your continued support that allows us to provide a free lunch for all in attendance and the disadvantaged in our community. This day would not have been a success without you!”
The program in Apalachicola opened with the singing of both the National Anthem, and the Negro National Anthem, the words of which were distributed to the audience.
Thea Croom led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance, and then Apalachicola Mayor Brenda Ash, who is also Robinson’s mom, offered a welcome.
The program then featured the recitation by audience members of various quotes from King’s writings, organized by Harolyn Walker, who is the mentor for the FSU Trio program at the high school, and three of her students, Dezmonae Sanders, Alexis Webb and Alonna Brown.
Sisters Maleah and Janaya Bell, under the direction Tanica Bell, then celebrated King’s legacy through dance, accompanied by the Michael Jackson song “Man In The Mirror.”
Three awards were then given out, for community service, humanitarian and economic development, and for pioneering achievement.
Elinor Mounty-Simmons presented the Community Service award to the Elder Care Community Council (ECCC), whose 60 volunteers provide and distribute meals to seniors. ECCC President Bonnie Kellogg accepted the award.
The Humanitarian and Economic Development award was given to Wayne Dooley, the longtime proprietor of the Gulfside IGA, whose “vision and leadership gave individuals the means to support themselves and their families.” Because Dooley could not attend due to Covid, his son Joshua accepted the award on his behalf.
The Pioneer award went to Nedra Jefferson McCaskill, who was the first African-American to be hired at the clerk of courts office. She went on to work for five clerks, including the current one Michele Maxwell, for a total of 47 years. County Judge Gordon Shuler, a member of the MLK committee, presented her the award.
The choir from the Family of God Baptist Church in Panama City, under the direction of Arletha Sparks and coordination by Luther Allen, sang three numbers, including “Oh Freedom.”
The walls of Armory were directed by artwork created by students from the Franklin County Schools and the Apalachicola Bay Charter School.Following the keynote speech, emcees Bishop Robert Davis and Pastor David Walker then