Saturday, November 18, 2017
Opinion

Jan. 21 MLK parade and service projects honor Dr. King

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The barricades will start to go up along Central Avenue and Bayshore Drive in St. Petersburg later this week as organizers prepare for the 28th annual MLK Drum Major for Justice Parade on Jan. 21.

But this year, several groups have organized to celebrate the national holiday and have other options to mark the day. Some will participate in the annual promenade along Central, while others will work on a host of community projects.

In June, a disagreement arose between state Rep. Darryl Rouson and civil rights leader Sevell Brown on how best to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy.

The parade, which organizers say is the largest in the Southeast, has been held in the Sunshine City for nearly three decades.

Rouson proposed an alternative: Hold the parade and post-parade festivities on Saturday and celebrate the holiday with a day of service. The idea came with $500,000 that he secured from the state Legislature.

Although the two community leaders were unable to settle their differences, a host of community groups stand to benefit from Rouson's original plan: make the holiday a day of service.

In some cases, service projects allow participants to enjoy the parade and help a local charity.

Rouson's idea for a day of service is a spinoff of a national effort.

The MLK Day of Service is a part of United We Serve, President Barack Obama's national call to service initiatives that are held annually across the United States.

Rouson's idea could be the largest effort to date in the Tampa Bay area.

A day of service appears to have caught on with many community groups looking for other options to honor the civil rights icon.

"There will be 57 groups participating in community service projects," Rouson said Friday.

About 97 groups submitted applications for grants for a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service project.

"We expect to engage at least 2,000 people for the holiday," Rouson said.

The grants were administered by St. Petersburg College, which collaborated with an advisory board and local residents to encourage groups from all walks of life to participate.

Many Bartlett Park area residents would prefer the volunteers over the annual street festival held after the 11 a.m. parade. City Council members Karl Nurse and Wengay Newton have been hearing complaints from constituents for years.

Though it's no secret that residents have grown wary of the post-parade parties held along several blocks of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street, taxpayers should pay close attention to the costs. The parties require street closures and have a strong police presence, at a cost of $50,000.

The service projects range in categories from disaster preparedness to environmental to helping the homeless.

Although it's too late to apply for a grant, a host of local organizations are still seeking volunteers. One of the larger efforts, Happy Workers at 920 19th St. S, will be retrofitting the wellness center on its campus.

Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at [email protected], (727) 893-8874 or @StPeteSandi on Twitter.

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