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How Gainesville, Hall County will celebrate the 2019 MLK holiday
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Gainesville High cheerleaders perform Monday, Jan. 15, 2018, at the Fair Street International Academy gymnasium following the annual Martin Luther King Jr. march. - photo by Scott Rogers

Irene Lipscomb is something of a local bridge between an older generation of African-Americans who grew up in the days of segregation, and today’s millennial youth who are engaged in the fight for social and economic justice.

A member of the Newtown Florist Club, a Gainesville civil rights organization established in 1950, Lipscomb chaired this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday committee, helping to organize a day full of sermons, marches and community discussions that aim to carry King’s message and activism forward.

But new additions to the annual march this year, for example, might not have been possible without the youth stepping up to help.

“It makes me feel really good, especially to see how excited they are about doing it,” Lipscomb said.

This includes Lipscomb’s own daughter, Jackie, a senior at Gainesville High who leads the Florist Club’s Bright Teens United for a Future youth leadership group, or B-TUFF. Lipscomb was a member while growing up in the early 1990s.

And it also includes fellow B-TUFF member Aniyah Norman, a senior at Johnson High who co-chaired the holiday committee this year.

Norman told The Times last summer that she was increasing her involvement in community nonprofit work because she felt it was important to help spur youth participation in the local community.

“Watching them put their ideas into it,” and “getting more involved,” has been very satisfying to see, Lipscomb said. “They are the future. The more involved they get, the more they understand the purpose.”

Monday’s holiday events pull from the best aspects of the annual program while bringing in some new additions.

The Florist Club has amplified its message and community outreach in recent years through MLK holiday events, such as a weeklong series of workshops for minority business owners, youth leadership training, and advocacy for affordable housing and health care during the annual celebration of King’s life and work.

For 2019, the theme is “Stand up! Speak up! Be active! Participate!”

The day begins at 10 a.m. with sermons and speeches at St. John Baptist Church on EE Butler Parkway.

The peace march, which begins at 1 p.m. at the church, will have a new, longer route this year. For the past three years, demonstrators have marched from the Butler Center on Athens Street to Fair Street elementary school, about a mile or so away. This year, however, the route returns to the downtown square before traversing Jesse Jewell Parkway to the Fair Street school.

Lipscomb said rerouting the march to once again include the downtown square will help raise awareness about the annual celebration and increase participation.

“Coming from Butler, we didn’t have a lot of visibility,” Lipscomb said.

The holiday committee has also recruited the Johnson High School marching band to participate in the demonstration and a youth rally that follows it.

“That’s never been done before,” Lipscomb said.

A community discussion on civil rights and voter suppression will be held at the school when the youth rally concludes.

Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday in Gainesville

  • Observance events begin at 10 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 21, with a speech by the Rev. Robert S. King (of St. Paul United Methodist Church on Summit Street) at St. John Baptist Church, 757 EE Butler Parkway in Gainesville
  • March from St. John through downtown Gainesville and ending at Fair Street Elementary School will begin at 1 p.m.
  • Youth rally at Fair Street will begin at 2 p.m. featuring the Johnson High School marching band.
  • Day’s events conclude with a community discussion on civil rights and voter suppression at 3 p.m. at the school.
  • More info: Sponsored by the Newtown Florist Club in Gainesville. Contact the Rev. Rose Johnson, executive director, at 770-718-1343, or email