PORT RICHEY — Inside the old Booker T. Washington schoolhouse — once the only school black children in west Pasco County could attend — a boisterous crowd on Monday celebrated how far the struggle for civil rights has come.
Rain canceled a planned march from Union Missionary Baptist Church to the schoolhouse about a block away. But the crowd found its Martin Luther King Jr. Day message in an indoor ceremony that featured spirit-filled musical numbers, prayers, speeches and even a mime.
Circuit Judge Michael Andrews, the keynote speaker, reminded the crowd that civil rights pioneers like King didn't struggle to make life better just for themselves.
"They were building a bridge over troubled waters so that I could cross, so that you could cross," Andrews said. "It was never about them. It was about us."
Andrews, a judge since 1997, said he often feels a twinge of regret when he sends people to jail, thinking about what they might have achieved. So he used the pulpit Monday to give some blunt advice to young people in the room — including ones he recognized from his courtroom.
"I want them to know that it is never too late to become what you might have been," he said.
Patrick James, a local educator, gave a moving recitation of King's 1963 "I Have a Dream Speech," which was capped by the audience locking arms and swaying as they sang We Shall Overcome.
Myron Donaldson put on black clothes and silver face paint for a performance miming the words to a song about human struggles, and 11-year-old Jubilee Vega sang an original, a cappella song that alternated between a melody about heaven and quick-spoken rap lyrics.
County Judge Debra Roberts, New Port Richey Mayor Scott McPherson and a widow of one of the Tuskegee airmen also addressed the crowd of retired couples, teens and children squirming on laps.
Eugene Scott, one of the event's organizers, said he was happy with the turnout in the face of Monday's bad weather.
"I'm sure people decided, 'Hey, I'll forgo it.' But as long as we have people here, that's all that matters — just to commemorate," he said.
After one last group song, the historic anthem Lift Every Voice and Sing, Pastor Ronald Smart of the Union church led the closing prayer.
"Let the dream begin in me," he said.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6245.