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Clearwater MLK Day celebrates past, present

Marchers with St. John Missionary Baptist Church join the parade Monday en route to Coachman Park in Clearwater while participating in the NAACP chapter’s 25th observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The march started at the North Greenwood Recreation Complex following a breakfast.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Marchers with St. John Missionary Baptist Church join the parade Monday en route to Coachman Park in Clearwater while participating in the NAACP chapter’s 25th observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The march started at the North Greenwood Recreation Complex following a breakfast.

CLEARWATER — Though the day was set aside to pay homage to a legendary leader of the past at Clearwater's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observance, most eyes were turning toward the history-making figure of today and the future.

Barack Obama will be inaugurated today as the first black president in the nation's 232-year history, and many of the participants in Monday's festivities were soaking in the moment as at least a partial fulfillment of King's dream.

"This seems to be a tide of hope and change," said Alma K. Bridges, 72, president of the Clearwater/Upper Pinellas Branch of the NAACP after the organization's 8 a.m. Leadership Breakfast.

"People have dreamed for a long time, and our forefathers even in the cotton field, for all people to be treated equal. This day, and tomorrow's inauguration is hope that the United States of America will continue to work to truly be united."

Monday was the local NAACP chapter's 25th annual celebration.

At the breakfast, folks wore shirts with King's image on them. There were just as many shirts with Obama's face. There also were hats with "Obama" etched across the front.

"There is a correlation between the two," said Michael Head, 55, of Clearwater who wore a shirt bearing Obama's face. "It's a dream that my mother, her mother, and her mother's mother dreamed. I wish they were here to see what we thought we would never see."

After Monday's breakfast, held at the North Greenwood Recreation Complex, several hundred people carrying signs bearing both King's and Obama's faces marched their way downtown to Coachman Park. Clearwater High's marching band provided the beat.

Once at the park, marchers mingled and talked under a sunny blue sky. A group of children showed their martial arts skills on stage as vendors sold turkey legs and barbecue ribs. Keynote speaker the Rev. Freddie Hinson Jr. of Hudson told the crowd that "we are seeing the fruit of his (Dr. King's) dream."

"We now live in a place where a kid from the hood can rise up and be a president of a nation," he said to the applause of the crowd.

Jim Waters, 55, a retired educator from Clearwater, used an analogy to describe the two days.

"Tomorrow is like the building of the building," Waters said of Obama's swearing-in as America's 44th president. "Today with King, it's the foundation. It's a solid foundation but the dream is set up so that it will never be fulfilled. There will always be room for improvement."

Robyn Lawrence, 27, of Dunedin said the connection between the holiday and the inauguration can't be ignored.

"It sends a strong message to the youth," she said. "It says it's okay to go to school and it's okay to dream because one day, it can be fulfilled."

Jeff Lockhart, 16, a student at Dunedin High, agreed as he left the breakfast.

"Anything is possible," he said. "Anything can be accomplished."

The morning speaker, Rev. Patricia Hauser of Tampa, encouraged the crowd to keep dreaming. "Between your dream and its reality, there's always going to be some drama, but keep on dreaming," she said. "Don't ever stop dreaming and never give up on your dream."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at (727) 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.

Clearwater MLK Day celebrates past, present 01/19/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 19, 2009 9:15pm]
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