PORT RICHEY -- It started as it always does, with a gathering at the Union Missionary Baptist Church. It was a diverse crowd, something Rev. Emery Ailes, would reflect upon later as he addressed the group at the annual MLK event.
But first, they would embark on a march past Plummer Field and down the road to the African American Club Of Pasco.
“What are we here for?” club vice president Darryll Stevenson Sr. asked those in attendance.
“For freedom,” came one reply.
“To celebrate diversity,” was another.
“To fight for equal rights and dignity for all.”
“To take a stand against discrimination against all people.”
Rev. Sherwayne Phillip offered a prayer. Then they set off, singing along to a recorded rendition of Freedom, punctuated by Ailes’ sturdy bass.
Oh, freedom, Oh, freedom
Oh freedom over me
And before I’d be a slave I’d be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord to be free.
The event continued at the African American Club, which was attended by local leaders, such as New Port Richey Mayor Rob Marlowe, and political hopefuls Brandi Geoit (Pasco County Commission) and Kimberly Walker (Florida’s 12th Congressional District).
Stevenson Sr. spoke of the need to get out and vote, before the crowd filed into the club.
“For so many in this community this (election) is life or death,” he said. “If you are middle class or poor or a person of color, this is life or death.”
Speakers took turns, including Professor Ron Becker from the Jewish Community Center and African American Club president Ephraim Livingston who also promoted the upcoming Sweet Potato Pie fundraising contest. Keynote speakers were Walker Smith and Mabili, who host the “Sunday Forum” for WMNF 88.5 community radio
There were performances by the Union Missionary Baptist Church choir and youth members of the African American Club. Malik Williams recited excerpts of King’s speeches. Chaamalah Fearing, of Hudson, offered a soulful rendition of Change Gonna Come.
William (Bill) Dumas, president of Citizens Against Discrimination and Social Injustice, railed against discrimination “that still exists today” and the need to get a civil rights ordinance passed by Pasco County commissioners.
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“That’s where I come in. That’s where you come in,” he said. “We’re going to make it happen."
Ailes, who serves as pastor of Pristine Spring Hill Baptist Church and is the LIFE coordinator at Pasco Hernando State College, conceded that there still was a way to go, "living in a country where we still have pockets where people are judged by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.”
He also acknowledged the positive momentum since 1963, evidenced by the the diversity of the standing-room-only crowd gathered before him.
“I see a cacophony of cultures here today, I would have to say, based on that, that the dream has been realized,” he said. “That the country elected the first black president, I would say the dream has been realized.”
That black women are better educated and hold professional roles in their community, means the dream has been realized, Ailes said.
“Martin Luther King encouraged others to dream,” he said. “I don’t think the dream has been deferred. I think some of us stopped dreaming.
“To the youth here, I say, ‘You keep dreaming.’ If you keep dreaming, we all will get to the promised land. Maybe not at the same time. But we’ll get there.”