St. Petersburg awards 2017 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade to new organizer for first time in three decades
ST. PETERSBURG — The founder of the largest Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade in the Southeast will not be running the event next year.
The city has rejected the application of Sevell Brown III, who has overseen the parade for more than 30 years.
But the event will go on, with a new group preparing a new parade route.
Brown has had control of the parade since its founding in 1985. A court settlement four years later cemented that role by ruling that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, to which Brown was affiliated, had the sole right to organize the parade.
But questions about Brown’s financial interests in the parade have come under scrutiny. And last month a Pinellas County judge ruled that Brown, who broke off his affiliation with the SCLC, and two of his affiliated non-profits no longer had the exclusive right to put on the parade.
Soon after, the city awarded the right to organize the Jan. 16, 2017 parade to the Southern Christian Conference of Pinellas, Advantage Village Academy and community activist Toriano Parker.
Brown’s application was the only other one submitted.
City administrator Gary Cornwell said that the city could only accommodate one MLK Day parade.
Neither Parker nor Brown responded to requests for comment this week.
Parker’s application proposed an 11 a.m. start for the parade at First Avenue S and First Street. The parade would proceed west along First Avenue and end at Lot 1 at Tropicana Field at 16th Street S, according to the permit application.
That differs from the parade route Brown used for three decades. Those parades started at the Trop and wound east to Vinoy Park. Much of the route was along Central Avenue.
The final route is still being negotiated and could change, said Ben Kirby, Mayor Rick Kriseman’s spokesman.
Natasha Walker, who has participated in parade for several years with 60 or so dancers called the “Nu Body and Soul Steppers,” said she welcomes the new leadership.
In May, Walker said she paid $200 to Brown as an entry fee. When she heard that Brown might not be running the parade this year, she said she tried unsuccessfully to get her money back.
Walker is not alone, city officials said. Other parade participants had similar experiences. Parker has said that anyone who paid Brown an entry fee won’t have to pay again to march, Kirby said.
“I’m just grateful,” Walker said. “It’s such an important legacy.”
Her sister, council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, said she has gotten positive feedback from constituents about the changes.
“It’s something new and fresh and gives someone else a chance,” she said.
A 2015 Tampa Bay Times investigation found little evidence of financial record keeping for the hundreds of thousands of dollars received by Brown and affiliated non-profits over the decades for the parade and accompanying Battle of the Bands competition. Later that year, Brown decided not to ask the city for financial support for the Battle of the Bands competition.
Contact Charlie Frago at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.