Tuesday, May 22, 2018
News Roundup

St. Petersburg's Martin Luther King Jr. events offer new opportunities

ST. PETERSBURG — State Rep. Darryl Rouson will spend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day as he always does.

After attending the annual leadership breakfast Monday at the Coliseum, he plans to go out into the community and volunteer.

But this year, he'll have a couple of thousand friends with him.

Rouson, and about 2,000 other local residents, will fan out across St. Petersburg for the city's inaugural "day of service."

The day of service, an idea Rouson dreamed up last year, shares the day with the city's other big event to honor the civil rights icon: the MLK Drum Major for Justice National Parade, coordinated by Sevell Brown.

Getting here wasn't easy.

Last summer, when Rouson announced his idea — and suggested the parade be moved to another day — the two community leaders clashed.

Brown took offense to Rouson's idea of changing the parade — called the largest in the southeast — and said he felt slighted Rouson hadn't shared his idea with him and other parade organizers before he went public.

Rouson, who secured a nearly $500,000 appropriation from the state for his idea, said on Friday that service is one of the best ways to honor King. Brown couldn't be reached.

Neither man has spoken to the other recently. But both events are set to go on.

"I think initially people may have felt we have to choose either or," said Linda Hogans, director of special programs for St. Petersburg College, which coordinated the fiscal portion of the day of service. "This is not an either or situation. This is an additional celebration. You can do both."

A total of $100,000 was disbursed for 55 service projects.

Hogans said that's because half of the appropriation was set aside for next year's day of service. The remaining funds went toward expenses, supplies and stipends for staff and youth project leaders.

Community groups were awarded different amounts based on their projects, which include everything from neighborhood associations doing environmental cleanups to church groups feeding the homeless to Habitat for Humanity, which will be painting and landscaping in neighborhoods.

Many groups are still accepting volunteers, officials said.

"This is just another opportunity for our community to be engaged," Hogans said.

Last week, students at St. Petersburg High School, which was awarded $1,500, stuffed care packages for veterans.

Teacher Loretta LaCourse, whose 23-year-old daughter, Army Spc. Melissa McLeod, is serving in Afghanistan, will take students to deliver some of the packages Monday afternoon to Bay Pines VA Medical Center.

"Every day I'm proud of my kids," said fellow teacher Tracey Keim, who came up with the idea of the effort, dubbed "Operation Snack Fairy." "But I'm really proud that we're a part of something bigger."

That doesn't mean that's all the kids will be doing on Monday. Many also plan to go to the parade as well, their teachers said.

This year's parade, which starts at 11 a.m., kicks off at Third Avenue S and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street, then goes down Central Avenue to Bayshore Drive and Fifth Avenue NE.

Other events include today's annual battle of the bands, which takes place at 4 p.m. at Tropicana Field, and Monday's leadership awards breakfast at 7:30 a.m. at the Coliseum.

"This whole thing started because I wanted to bring peace to the day," Rouson said. "I'm not happy with the bumpy start but … I'm extremely excited with what we were able to accomplish."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.

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