Monday marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and there will be parades on both sides of Tampa Bay with hundreds of units and marching bands, as well as a march in Clearwater to honor the late civil rights activist’s work.
In St. Petersburg, which last year inaugurated its first Black mayor, there was a surge in participation for its 37th year of hosting one of the nation’s oldest MLK Day parades, said Jeffrey Copeland, spokesperson for the MLK Dream Big Weekend, a civic organization that every year puts on a number of events for the holiday.
“It’s great to see the culture really does change and has changed,” Copeland said. “We have made history in so many different ways. We have our first Black mayor, we have had two African American police chiefs. That’s coming from a city where there were green benches all around that we couldn’t sit on.”
St. Petersburg was once famous for thousands of green benches that lined the streets as a symbol of hospitality. But as history attests, the city’s Black residents were not allowed to sit on the benches.
“We’ve come a long way from those days,” Copeland said.
On Monday starting at 11 a.m., there will be a 110-unit parade in downtown St. Petersburg with Tuskegee University and Savannah State among the many high-stepping marching units. It will be followed by a free Family Fun Day in Lot 4 of Tropicana Field with bouncy houses, food and other vendors.
There will also be many allies in the parade lineup.
St. Petersburg’s Temple Beth-El has gathered nearly 100 people to march, a record number this year. The synagogue has been part of the event for more than a decade because of its affinity with the civil rights movement, said organizer Joshua Bell. The antisemitism that has surfaced in recent years has especially united the Jewish and Black communities, he said.
“We are praying with our feet,” said Kendra Cluck, spokesperson for Temple Beth-El.
In Tampa, parade organizers have lined up Bethune-Cookman University among its many bands for Monday’s parade, and said they also saw a big bump in participation this year.
In addition to having 99 units in this year’s parade, there is a big increase in vendors both in Cuscaden Park, where the parade kicks off, and along the parade route, said Tampa parade organizer Barbara Scott. The free event starts at noon at 2901 N 15th St. in Tampa.
“It’s great to see the community working as one,” Scott said.
And in Clearwater, the 40th annual MLK Day Celebration will include breakfast Monday morning, a ceremony with dignitaries giving talks and then a march from the North Greenwood Recreation Center to the city’s memorial for King. Clearwater native and retired educator Diane Stephens will speak and the Mount Zion UMC Praise Team will sing before keynote speaker Robert L. Stevenson Jr., assistant professor of African American studies at the University of Florida. The event is put on by the city and the NAACP Clearwater Upper Pinellas County branch.
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If you go
MLK Dream Big Weekend Parade: For its 37th year, the country’s oldest MLK Day parade will have 110 units and bands. Free. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday. The parade travels east to west on First Avenue South in St. Petersburg starting at Third Street and ends at Tropicana Field for a Family Fun Day with bouncy houses, games and food vendors.
City of Tampa Martin Luther King Jr. Parade: The city’s parade includes floats, marching bands, equestrian groups and decorated vehicles. Free. It starts at noon Monday at Cuscaden Park, 2901 N 15th St., Tampa. Go to mlkjrparade.com for more information.
Clearwater Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration: The day begins with a breakfast at 9:30 a.m. at the recreation center, a ceremony with speakers, music at 10 a.m. and a march to the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. memorial at 11:30 a.m. Free. North Greenwood Recreation Center, 900 N Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., Clearwater.