The Martin Luther King Jr. Commission hosted King Celebration week in Gainesville once again. But this year, there was no march and half of the weeklong festivities were streamed online.
The Annual Commemorative March in Gainesville has averaged between 3,000 and 4,000 attendees in the past few years. For the first time in 40 years, the event did not take place on MLK Day, Rodney J. Long, founder and president of the Martin Luther King Commission of Florida, said.
Instead, the King Commission hosted three online events leading up to its final in-person event at Citizens Field: The Hall of Fame Gala, The Remembering Martin and Coretta Program and the Social Justice Town Hall Symposium, according to a press release from the King Commission.
Local elected officials, King Commission Board members and award recipients sat on a stage in the middle of the football field at noon Monday. Audience members watched speeches and singing performances from the stands on both sides of the stadium. Face coverings and social distancing were required at all times.
The commission was relieved to have held an in-person event for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Long said.
“It's an opportunity for people to get out,” he said. “People haven't been out to events for quite some time.”
Six elected officials attended the event, including Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, Chair of the Alachua County Commission Ken Cornell, Alachua County Sheriff Clovis Watson Jr., Alachua County Property Appraiser Ayesha Solomon, Alachua County Interim Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon and Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe. Each spoke about the effects of politics in Washington D.C. on Alachua County.
“We need a Stacey Abrams movement,” Florida District 20 Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson said. “I suggest to you my brothers and sisters of all races, creeds and nationalities that we reach deep within our being, our souls, and emancipate ourselves.”
The theme of this year’s King Celebration was “Reclaiming the Dream: The Time is Now!” Long said. The holiday is a time to reflect on the core goals of King’s nonviolent movement for equality and reclaim the ideas brought to the forefront of the civil rights movement by young people, he said.
“We can easily reclaim the dream, simply because of social media,” Long said. “Social media is at their fingertips, and they can put together a group overnight and have 2,000 people out on the streets protesting nonviolently about a cause.”
A lot has changed within the organization in the past 40 years. To continue celebrating Dr. King’s achievements and sustaining his legacy, the commission created the Martin Luther King Jr., Hall of Fame and established two scholarships recognizing local residents for their leadership and emulation of Dr. King’s teachings.
The 2021 Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream Scholarship Award Recipient is Taylor Hill-Miles, a senior at Eastside High School.
Hill-Miles hopes to inspire others who want to make a difference in the community. She said she never thought her community volunteering efforts would get recognized.
“I was just doing what I loved,” Hill-Miles said. “Your hard work will pay off, whether you see the results or not, and I think that is the most important part of community service.”
Aeriel Lane, a Gainesville activist and founder of local nonprofit March for Our Freedom, was selected as the 2021 MLK Hall of Fame Award Recipient. According to the commission, Lane sent a Facebook event invite to ten of her friends, and eventually, March for Our Freedom saw as many as 6,000 participants, becoming one of the largest peaceful demonstrations in Gainesville.
“When George Floyd was killed, my eight-year-old son asked me if this is something that could happen to me, and I was so scared and so sad by that question from someone who is so young. And I just felt this sense of needing to take some kind of action,” Lane said.
Lane said the holiday reminds her how far Gainesville’s Black community has come and how much work the community has left to do.
“I think, frequently, people like to canonize various people and make them the leaders of a movement,” Lane said. “Whereas, we are all leaders of our own tiny movements in our homes, in our families, and in our communities.”
Contact Jiselle Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @jiselle_lee.
Jiselle Lee is a freshman journalism student and a news assistant for the Independent Alligator. She loves trying new restaurants around Gainesville in her free time.