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Virtual MLK Day celebration to share ‘importance of nonviolent social change’
MLK dream.jpg
Martin Luther King Jr. addresses marchers during his "I Have a Dream" speech Aug. 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. - photo by Associated Press

Teachable moments can be used to inspire positive change in communities, and the Newtown Florist Club, a Gainesville civil rights organization, aims to do just that with its Martin Luther King Jr. Day virtual celebration. 

Instead of having people congregate at St. John Baptist Church for its 35th annual holiday observance program, the nonprofit invites people to participate online. 

The Rev. Rose Johnson, executive director of Newtown Florist Club, said before the main event on Monday, Jan. 18, a live conversation will be led by Beni Ivey, senior adviser to Martin Luther King III, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14. 

People will be able to watch the talk by tuning in on Newtown Florist Club’s Facebook page or joining via Zoom. Those who prefer Zoom can receive the link by sending an email to newtown193@gmail.com. People can watch the video afterward on Facebook. 

Johnson said Ivey’s conversation will tie in with the annual celebration’s recurring theme of “Stand up! Speak up! Be active! Participate in community life!” The speaker intends to examine Martin Luther King Jr.’s six principles of nonviolent social change. 

Virtual Martin Luther King Jr. Day schedule

To view: Live video on Newtown Florist Club’s Facebook page or Zoom link offered by emailing newtown193@gmail.com

Thursday, Jan. 14

  • 7 p.m. — Conversation with Beni Ivey, senior adviser to Martin Luther King III, about the six principles of nonviolent social change. 
Monday, Jan. 18
  • 10 a.m. — Program begins
  • 10:30 a.m. — The Interdenominational Black Ministers Association offers words of encouragement and inspiration
  • 11:30 a.m. — Teachable moment about the role of music in the civil rights movement 
  • Noon — Drum Major for Justice Awards 
  • 12:30 p.m. — Newtown Florist Club’s Black Business Directory Committee announcement 
  • 12:45 p.m. — Local youth talk about young people’s involvement in the civil rights movement 
  • 1 p.m. — Amazing Voices Youth Rally which highlights the importance of arts and culture in the civil rights movement
  • 2 p.m. — Virtual Martin Luther King Jr. Day march where community members explain why they march for justice

“The principles of Dr. King’s nonviolence philosophy are so important for anybody that’s active in the community,” Johnson said. “Even though we’re starting with this conversation, this conversation will not be where we will end. We all feel as an organization that we have a responsibility to help this generation and the next understand the value in organizing and mobilizing the spirit of nonviolence.”

After the talk, which will last around an hour, people will have the opportunity to ask Ivey questions. 

The virtual activities on Monday, Jan. 18, will begin at 10 a.m. via Facebook Live with an opening session, then offer the floor to members of the Interdenominational Black Ministers Association, a local group of church leaders.

“They realize 2020 was a very traumatic year for a lot of people,” Johnson said. “ … They decided it would be appropriate to share with the community words of encouragement during troubled times.”

2021 Drum Major for Justice Awards

  • Unsung Hero Award: The Rev. Charles Dickey
  • Posthumous Drum Major for Justice: Marianne Scott
  • Community Service: The Rev. L.C. Teasley
  • Faith in Action: The Rev. Isaac Whitehead
  • Trailblazer: Laura Colaninno
  • Equal Justice: Christen Lott Hunte
  • Rosa Parks Humanitarian: The Rev. Tonya Moon
  • Young Leader of the Year: Brandon Evans
  • Foot Soldier of the Year: Jackie Lipscomb
  • Educational Advancement: Major Nelson and Jeremy Williams
  • Drum Majors of the Year: Roderick Hughey, Stephen Samuel , Matthew Little, Lee Koontz, Robert King, Michael Thurmond, Adrian Niles and Rodney Lackey.

At 11:30 a.m. a prerecorded video will play that offers insight into the role of music in the civil rights movement, specifically the significance of why “We Shall Overcome” is still sung today, Johnson said.

Instead of announcing the Drum Major for Justice Awards during the event, the Newtown Florist Club decided to release the names of the recipients early. Those who view the online celebration will be able to hear the pre-recorded responses of the honorees at noon. 

The event will then offer an announcement from the nonprofit’s Black Business Directory Committee, who will share the dates of the directory’s release. Johnson said the directory provides updated contact information for Black businesses, nonprofits and churches. 

Toward the end of the celebration, participants will learn about young people’s involvement in the civil rights movement and watch the Amazing Voices Youth Rally. 

“Our young people have been working hard to pull that (rally) together,” Johnson said. “That will focus on the importance of arts and culture in the civil rights movement.”

This year people won’t be marching through Gainesville on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but Johnson said Newtown Florist Club will offer a virtual version of the activity. 

She said longtime participants of the march will speak about why they continue to march for justice. Chief Jay Parrish of the Gainesville Police Department will also shed light on the process community members undergo when organizing and applying for a march. 

“We have two things that are really important, and that is still going back to the theme of encouraging people to be active in community life and to understand the importance of nonviolent social change,” Johnson said. “If we can accomplish those things, then we can say we’ve had a successful Martin Luther King event.”

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