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Brooksville, Port Richey mark King Day with parade, speech

Eric Riggins Sr. sat in a chair along a relatively empty stretch of Howell Avenue as the first participants in Brooksville's Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade passed before him Monday morning.

Riggins was there to show respect for the civil rights leader and King's message of peace and acceptance.

"We all need to stick together and come together and be one happy community," said Riggins, a 37-year-old Brooksville resident.

That's just what organizers were trying to achieve this year, the first for a revitalized parade in Brooksville.

"It almost brought me to tears to see the cooperation with everybody ," said Hernando NAACP president Paul Douglas. "It was just phenomenal."

While attendance was sparse along much of the route, the parade was larger, more organized and involved more people from the community — both black and white — than past efforts. Sponsored by Walmart, the parade traveled along a new route through the heart of downtown and featured numerous community and business leaders and local organizations. In all, 65 groups participated, including seven school bands, organizers said.

"I am glad we've reached out and brought in another part of the community," Riggins said.

The parade was one of several celebrations Monday on the North Suncoast.

In recent years, Brooksville's parade — really more of a march — had struggled to remain relevant, with poor organization and little effort. The past two years, it had been canceled. Many watching this year's event said this was a good start, and they hope to see it grow.

"It's got to start from somewhere," said James Thomas, a Brooksville resident.

Thomas said King Day is for everyone, and everyone should want to be involved.

"It's not just an African-American holiday," Thomas said. "It's a national holiday."

Darlene Blount of Brooksville came out to the parade to celebrate King's legacy and to remind younger generations of the past so it's not forgotten.

"Their memories have to be stirred," Blount said. "They only know what they've seen, and they've not seen a lot. But we have."

• • •

In Port Richey, the African-American Club of Pasco had a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at the former Booker T. Washington School on Pine Hill Road. The Gulf High School band greeted people with music while participants marched from a nearby church into a crowded classroom where pictures of King were set against windows.

The keynote speaker was Marvin Dunn, who recently wrote a book titled The Beast in Florida: A History of Violence Against Blacks, about racial crime in the state. He shared some of his racism experiences.

Dunn told an anecdote of traveling alone on a bus from Florida to Georgia, and how his parents warned him to plant himself in the back and not move.

When he moved to the middle, some white teenagers came on the bus. He said he was called a racial slur and told to move, and when someone stuck up for him, that person in turn was slapped with a slur.

"Look how far we've come, from that to a black president," Dunn said.

Other community members attended the event and spoke, including state Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, who asked the crowd if King would be satisfied with the state of things today.

Many answered no.

"He'd be grateful," she said, "but not satisfied."

Brooksville, Port Richey mark King Day with parade, speech

01/20/14 [Last modified: Monday, January 20, 2014 10:04pm]

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