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At Tampa MLK parade, past celebrates present

TAMPA — For 17 years, thousands of paradegoers lined Tampa streets to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and be reminded of the legacy he left on their shoulders.

But Monday, marking the 18th year of Tampa's annual parade, that weight seemed to be lifted by another man, President-elect Obama, who will be inaugurated today.

"I had a dream," said words printed on a float that wheeled down Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. "Now my dream has been fulfilled."

On T-shirts, posters, floats and vehicles, images of King and Obama shared space, one representing the past, another the future of civil rights.

County commissioners tossed beads. Middleton High School's marching band wore mustard capes and tall hats.

Hillsborough County trucks carried DJs and emcees reminding the crowd of the man they came to remember.

It was the same as any year except that everything seemed sharper, said Nathaniel Washington, who has attended several King parades in his 38 years living in Tampa.

"This one's a little bit better," he said, "just by the way the kids are performing.

"It has everything to do with what's going on tomorrow."

While Monday was a federal holiday it felt more like Christmas Eve to most in the crowd who said they couldn't wait until today.

Tish Hankerson, 29, who attended the parade with her daughter, Brazyl Hicks, 8, planned to pull the child out of school to bake cookies and watch the inauguration.

Blannie Whelan, 56, attended the parade as well, wearing a pink T-shirt with King, Obama and the words, "Maybe this is the Dream" on it. She planned to remove her grandchildren, Jake Scott, 7, and Justin Scott, 5, from school for today's inauguration.

Hankerson is black. Whelan is white.

"It's a historic event," Whelan said. "Something I've dreamed of my entire life."

Mayor Pam Iorio took note of the jubilant atmosphere. Prior MLK celebrations left her with the feeling, "Yes, we can make progress, but we have to overcome obstacles." Monday told her loud and clear that progress has arrived, she said.

Not far from her, a float rebroadcast words from King's monumental "I have a dream" speech. Next to it, another blared Kool & the Gang's Celebration.

Justin George can be reached at or (813) 226-3368.

At Tampa MLK parade, past celebrates present 01/19/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 19, 2009 11:42pm]
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