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MLK Day parades on both sides of Tampa Bay

ST. PETERSBURG — The streets of downtown St. Petersburg, home to the state's largest Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade, began filling up after sunrise.

The best spots along the parade route seemed to be the ones in the sun, as shady areas felt chilly in the 60-degree overcast weather.

Latreisha Honors, 26, of St. Petersburg sipped a 7-Eleven cappuccino as she waited with 26-year-old Janielle McCullough for the marchers to pass.

Honors had two daughters, ages 9 and 10, marching with the Boys & Girls Clubs, and the women also wanted to see their church band perform in the parade. When asked what they would do when they spotted their friend and children go by, Honors said, "Scream!"

German tourists Stephan Althaus and his wife, visiting from Berlin, also said they had to move from the shade to a warmer spot.

Several vendors set up food stands as early as 6:30 a.m. Among those was 25-year-old Kiyauta Newkirk, who set up two tables on the corner of Fourth Street and Central Avenue and sold rib sandwiches, hot dogs, fried chicken and soda.

Crowds cheered for high school step teams, marching bands and a moon-walking, hip-thrusting Michael Jackson impersonator, wearing the iconic silver glove.

Kim Colston and her husband, Dwight, of Tampa waved from the sidewalk at celebrities such as actor and minister Clifton Davis, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who stood upright in a red, open-topped Jeep Wrangler.

The couple wore matching black T-shirts depicting Dr. King and President Barack Obama, both winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, that she picked up at the Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival.

Colston said this year's holiday is special because her 5-year-old son, James, understands the impact of Dr. King's work.

"This is when he's going to really start remembering the meaning," she said.

The day began with ceremonies and breakfasts on both sides of Tampa Bay on Monday morning.

Around 400 people gathered at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Tampa to honor the civil rights activist's birthday. Just after breakfast was served, the ceremony opened with the Sam Cook civil rights anthem A Change Is Gonna Come and interpretive dance.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, Tampa City Council member Thomas Scott, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan and state Sen. Arthenia Joyner were among those who spoke during the introduction.

"I believe the greatest strength of the city of Tampa is its diversity," Iorio said. "We all live together in harmony. Isn't that a beautiful thing? And isn't that what Dr. Martin Luther King strove for?"

The keynote speaker was Angela Gittens, the director general of Airports Council International in Geneva. Gittens has held top executive positions at three of the largest U.S. airport systems. She was general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport when the airport prepared for the 1996 Olympics and it became the busiest airport worldwide.

"It was because of Dr. Martin Luther King and those before and after that I got those opportunities," Gittens said.

Joyner said the breakfast is held early because when it began 30 years ago, Dr. King's birthday wasn't a holiday and people had to go to work. The city kept it at 6:45 a.m. to remind people of the progress that has been made, she said.

Delores Gervin, a 61-year-old manager with the Tampa parks department, was invited by friends to attend her first Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast.

"It's very important to me because I lived through the 50s and 60s," Gervin said. "To have all this freedom now and be able to express yourself, Martin Luther King Jr. opened the way for a lot of that. I wish he was here today to see all of this."

Another annual breakfast began at 7:30 at the St. Petersburg Coliseum and was attended by city leaders, including St. Petersburg's new mayor, Bill Foster.

Attending for the first time as mayor, Foster called on community leaders and residents to make lifelong — or at least start with yearlong — commitments to tutor and mentor youth.

The keynote speaker was author and motivational speaker Crystal Kuykendall.

Times staff writer Cristina Silva contributed to this report. Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

MLK Day parades on both sides of Tampa Bay 01/18/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 10:22am]
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