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Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations unite people across Tampa Bay

PORT RICHEY — It was Monday morning, but the little white church on Pine Hill Road had come alive: A choir of women sang and swayed, the preacher clapped and prayed, and people spoke about having a vision and working hard.

Same time, just north across the county line: A parade had made its way to Kennedy Park in Brooksville, where crowds gathered for singing and stepping performances and to hear more about the day.

"Look around, people from different races, different creeds coming together," Pastor Clarence Clark of Shiloh Problem Solvers said at the Hernando event. "You cannot have a community without unity."

Whether it was from church pews or next to barbecue pits, North Suncoast residents on Monday found ways to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

• • •

In Pasco, the African American Club of West Pasco helped host the annual King celebration at Union Missionary Baptist Church.

The event had all the usual markings of a small-town church event — plenty of hugs and handshakes and Tupperware containers filled with food — but the Rev. Ron Smart reminded attendees of devastation beyond their immediate community.

"I think of our brothers and sisters in Haiti," he said, "who are not so fortunate."

This year's keynote speaker was Port Richey lawyer Kenneth Foote, a Brooklyn native who was the first in his family to go to college.

He recalled that in his family's eyes, he would have been a success had he found a decent job after high school and stuck with it. But he wanted to go to college.

So he walked into a savings bank and applied for a student loan. That day, he went home, waving the application papers. His family froze.

"They said, 'What did you do?'" he said. "I said, 'The lady said I could go to college.' "

Foote said children need not only have a vision for their futures, but they also must be willing to work hard for it. King used to say that every person is responsible for his own freedom, Foote said.

"So get out there and do what you're supposed to do," he said.

• • •

Two-year-old Leonard White Jr. could hear the drumbeat of the Hernando High School marching band long before the students could be seen making their way down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Brooksville.

"Mama, let's go," he said.

Leonard's aunt, Shardasha Jackson, 15, participated in the parade as Miss MLK Festival, and Leonard wanted to see her.

"I felt like I was on top of the world," Shardasha said later.

Along the parade's path, several barbecue pits had been smoking for hours.

A man who goes by the name "Florida Keys" had a pit full of large mullet he'd marinated in a mix of tomato, onion and a secret recipe of spices he refused to reveal.

"I'm just going to give them away," he said of the mouth-watering grub. "Every Martin Luther King Day we do this."

The Hernando County branch of the NAACP Religious Affairs Committee and the Shiloh Problem Solvers sponsored this year's parade and events.

Over at Kennedy Park, speakers tied King's message to their lives today.

"I see the need for more men to take their rightful place in the home," said Joel Blount, president of the Student Government Association at PHCC's North Campus. "I see the need for our churches to come together and lead. As a united community, we can make that difference. We must continue to meet and solve our community's problems at the ground level."

• • •

Back in Port Richey, at Union Missionary Baptist Church, brothers Kris and Alex King had come with their father.

Asked what he was taking away from the event, Kris, a fifth-grader at Elfers Christian School, said: "Have a vision!"

Kris said he already has one: He wants to be a pharmacist, though people sometimes tell him he might make a good preacher.

As for Alex, a seventh-grader, he hasn't made up his mind about his plans.

"I don't know yet," he said. "I've got a lot of choices."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at or (727) 869-6247. Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at

Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations unite people across Tampa Bay 01/18/10 [Last modified: Monday, January 18, 2010 10:13pm]
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