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No matter the weather, crowds celebrate King

TAMPA

When James Green awoke to a furious thunderstorm Monday, he knew the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade, and thus his fraternity's community picnic along the route, would be in jeopardy.

So, determined to salvage the day despite the parade's cancellation, he picked up the phone and began looking for banquet halls.

"It's raining. It's an act of nature. We can't control it," said Green, president of a local chapter of Omega Psi Phi fraternity, holding a plate of food under the awning of the Elks Lodge on Columbus Drive, where his group relocated the event. "But we can still find a way to celebrate this wonderful day."

Echoing that sentiment, hundreds turned out to events across the rain-soaked city Monday to celebrate the civil rights leader's birthday and what he stood for.

Just before 3 p.m. outside Oriental Fish Co. on the corner of 15th Street and Lake Avenue, volunteers brought out trays of food as the sky cleared. Within minutes, dozens filled the yard, eating, chatting and dancing.

"I'm here to commemorate Dr. King and what he's done, not just for black people, but for the whole world," said Jackie Hearns, 50, a Tampa exterminator. "Had he not pushed for nonviolence, imagine how many would've died on both sides — black and white."

Carl Graham, 45, agreed King had set the tone for equality.

"It's about unity between all races and creeds, as you can see," he said, motioning to the diverse crowd mingling around him. The day is "about how far we've come, and still have yet to go."

With the centerpiece of the holiday's festivities scrapped, turnouts were strong elsewhere. And nearly every resident interviewed understood the decision to cancel the parade.

"MLK Day is going to go on forever," said Deloris Adebowale, 67. "So we don't need people dropping dead from pneumonia."

To Max Dix, 50, the answer was easy: It was God's call.

"The Lord makes things happen for a reason," he said, pausing and looking to the breaking clouds. "Look now, he still gave us the opportunity for people to get together."

Less than a mile to the east, outside First Baptist Church of College Hill, church custodian Marvin Youngblood stood, grinning beneath a wavy white beard and greeting every passer-by.

"It is more than just a day for me," he said. "As a black man, 65 years old, I became a man because Dr. King fought for me to be a man."

Inside, Chloe Coney, district director for U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, said King was a big presence in her childhood.

After beginning her education at a segregated Dunbar Elementary School, she became one of the five African-Americans to graduate from the integrated Hillsborough High School in 1968, a few months after King was assassinated.

"He opened doors for me, and I'm forever grateful," she said.

Nearby, artist Ronnie Moorer, 56, had set up five of the roughly 25 portraits he has created of King over the past 42 years.

"It may have rained on everybody's parade today," he said, "but we're still celebrating and giving him the honor he deserves."

Jack Nicas can be reached at (813)226-3401 or jnicas@sptimes.com.

No matter the weather, crowds celebrate King 01/17/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 17, 2011 11:22pm]
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