BROOKSVILLE — The organizers of Brooksville's Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade came up with an ambitious theme for this year's tribute to one of the greatest defenders of equality in American history: "Dream beyond measures."
It's a message they first had to apply to the parade itself.
In recent years, the parade — really more of a march — had struggled to remain relevant, with poor organization and little effort. The past two years, it had been canceled.
But this year, it is experiencing a revival, largely with the backing of a major corporate sponsor, Walmart.
It's expected to be the grandest one yet, organizers say.
"I don't think we've ever had a big one in Brooksville," said Billy Healis, a human resources manager with Walmart who is spearheading the effort. "It's always just been a small group of folks that have not garnered much support from the business community."
Says Hernando NAACP president Paul Douglas: "This is the very first time they've had this kind of participation in Hernando County for the MLK celebration. This is almost historic."
About 60 groups are scheduled to participate in Monday morning's parade, including five high school bands and a middle school band that will be participating in a "battle of the bands" from across the Tampa Bay area during the parade.
Walmart is covering the expenses of some of the bands and giving each group $1,000 for participating, Healis said.
There was no registration fee for any of the parade entries.
The parade is different from celebrations in the past for another reason: the route itself.
It won't follow a path from south Brooksville to the lawn of Hernando County's historic courthouse, as some marches have in the past; instead the route will mirror that of the annual Hernando High homecoming parade.
The parade, which begins at 10 a.m., will start near Hernando High, on the north side of town.
Healis said it was a difficult decision to ditch the more traditional route, but it was ultimately the best for parade-goers.
"There was some initial heartburn over that fact, but the committee agreed the best thing to move this parade forward was to move its location," he said.
The parade will have widespread participation from the community and local government, including a number of elected officials and businesses, student groups and local fire departments.
Healis estimated the cost of putting on the parade at about $15,000, though he said much of it is in the form of in-kind donations.
The parade has been three months in the making.
Healis says the King parade is important, given the history of racial tension in Hernando County.
"It's one of those things that I think, it's an injustice when we don't celebrate the life of someone like Martin Luther King Jr.," he said. "At the end of the day, he might not have wanted a big parade and corporate sponsorships, but it's going to raise a lot of awareness on how important his vision was and is, especially to a community like Hernando County and Brooksville."
Douglas says the widespread community involvement in this year's event has been phenomenal.
"It's been something we did not expect," he said. "They are coming out of the wall. It's just about anybody and everybody you could think."
He said the response clearly illustrates that the day is for everyone, regardless of race.
"When it became a national holiday, you would have thought it would have become a national holiday here," he said. "I can honestly say that, more than likely, a lot of the citizenry didn't recognize that they could participate.
"This is a holiday that everybody should celebrate."
Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter:@HernandoTimes.