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Walmart sponsoring Brooksville's King Day parade makes it our day

With Walmart as a sponsor, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade in Brooksville will follow a more visible route in January, taking the path used for the annual Christmas parade that starts at Hernando High School. It will feature all four of the county’s high school marching bands.

CHRIS PRICE | Special to the Times (2011)

With Walmart as a sponsor, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade in Brooksville will follow a more visible route in January, taking the path used for the annual Christmas parade that starts at Hernando High School. It will feature all four of the county’s high school marching bands.

Brooksville's Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade always happened, if it happened at all, because of the efforts of black people.

Actually, it was less a parade than a crowd of regular folks walking up Main Street, an homage to the historic marches of the Civil Rights era. So were the stirring speeches at the march's terminus: the lawn of Hernando County's old courthouse.

This was usually followed by a picnic at Kennedy Park, just southeast of town. For about 15 years after the holiday was first observed in Hernando County, in 1989, everything was organized by the Hernando County branch of the NAACP.

But in the last few years, there hasn't been much effort. The picnics were held sporadically. So were marches organized by Shiloh Problem Solvers, an organization based in predominantly black south Brooksville, which is also where it staged the parades.

For the past two years, the only observances were in churches. And last year, the church service wasn't even in Hernando, but on the other side of County Line Road.

Which is shameful, especially because of Hernando's racist history. We have an extra duty to show our commitment to King's message.

So, good news: There will be a parade on King Day, Jan. 20.

It will follow the route of the annual Christmas parade, starting at the Hernando High School parking lot.

It will feature all four of the county's high school marching bands, which will receive a total of $4,000 in appearance money. Maybe some prize money, too, if the organizers can pull together the battle of the bands that they've been discussing. There has even been talk of an essay contest.

The person behind this is Billy Healis, a former County Commission candidate (not a future one, he insists, despite what this might look like) and the human resources manager at the Walmart Distribution Center in Ridge Manor.

Healis serves on a committee there that identifies worthwhile projects in the community. And in February, fresh off last year's pitiful King Day's observance, he decided that Walmart could change that. He talked to local NAACP president Paul Douglas, who lives in his neighborhood east of Brooksville. Two months ago, he held an organizational meeting that included representatives from the city and the county.

Healis, I guess I have to point out, is a white guy. Some residents of south Brooksville initially objected to the change of the parade route. I'm sure some people will cringe at the idea of King's image being used to burnish Walmart's.

And, considering that King was black and that his movement was mostly aimed at ending the oppression of African-Americans, maybe they should have been the ones who stepped up to honor him.

But I like to view this a little differently, to look not at who isn't involved but who is.

For too long there's been a perception that King is a hero to black people and that his day was "their" holiday. Neither the city nor the county did much to help stage those earlier parades. Some years, it was hard to get a local politician to show up.

Now the establishment is involved, the mainstream — business people, government.

Which is great.

Equality, obviously, wasn't just King's guiding, sacred principle; it's America's.

So if any day is our day, it's King Day.

Walmart sponsoring Brooksville's King Day parade makes it our day 12/03/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 3:32pm]
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