0122MLKAUDListen to fifth-grader Alaina Holeman discuss how the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. affected public schools.
Nearly 300 people, black, white, old and young, joined the 38th annual Newtown Florist Club King Day March as pedestrians traveled through the streets of Gainesville Monday afternoon celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
Middle school-aged marchers held a banner declaring the event one of peace, unity and justice, and led the parade from the corner of E.E. Butler Parkway and Washington Street to the Butler Recreation Center on Athens Street.
The march culminated at the Butler Recreation Center gym, where more than 400 people filled the auditorium to hear speeches by Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueras, attorney John Clark of Elberton and Hall County Commissioner Deborah Mack, among others. Young vocalist J.J. Evans of Antioch Baptist Church performed at the 3 p.m. event, along with the Mattie Thornton Sanctuary Choir of First Baptist Church.
Nearly 40 years ago, on April 4, 1968, King was slain on the balcony of his hotel in Memphis, Tenn., as he prepared to attend a sanitation workers’ strike.
In 1964, at age 35, King was the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, according to the Nobel Prize Web site.
Sara Nash, vice chairwoman of the Newtown Florist Club, said Monday marked the 25th year she has participated in the King Day March.
"We’re celebrating Dr. King’s dream, trying to keep it alive. I see different faces, but there’s the same enthusiasm, the same wanting to celebrate," Nash said. "It’s all the same, just younger people."
Faye Bush, executive director of the Newtown Florist Club, said she wanted the club to make a concerted effort to involve young people in the King Day celebration this year.
For the first time, the club hosted a basketball and cheerleading tournament on Saturday in preparation for the Monday march, as well as an essay contest with multiple winners.
Maurice Riden II won the grand prize, a laptop computer, for his 2,000-word essay detailing his beliefs as to whether America has embraced King’s dream.
Bush said not only did the march draw in young people, but for the first time, she saw a substantial representation of local professionals outside the black community partake in the event.
Gala Sheats helped to kick off the King Day march, and said educating young people in King’s dream is vital to its future existence.
"They’ve got to ... start here as young students and then raise up, and they will continue to march on ... and to love one another," Sheats said. "I want to impart to them that Dr. King’s dream can come to fruition if they listen and believe in the dream — it’s not just words on paper. The dream is that we ... be united in anything that we do and everything that we do, even church services, going to school together and working together."
Fair Street Elementary School fifth-grader Alaina Holeman, 10, said she believes King’s dream of uniting black and white public school students has come true.
"He wanted all the little children to be together and to hold hands with each other and to be treated equally," said Holeman, who attended the march with her three cousins and mother. "Most kids treat each other equally, and we’re all friends. And we laugh together and we have parties and birthdays together."
Retired Episcopal priest Mike Freeman joined black church leaders in the march, and said the gathering of various races and religions at the march was a testament that King’s dream of unity is coming true "little by little." United Methodists, Episcopalians, Baptists, Catholics and even members of the Baha’i Faith were represented at the King Day March.
"One of the great obscenities of our society is how Christians and other people of religion divide themselves when they should be uniting themselves in a common cause," Freeman said. "I just wish everybody was represented — such as Jewish representation, Muslim representation."
At the King Day memorial service, Figueras said she believed the power to enforce King’s vision lies in the power of the vote.
Some King Day marchers expressed that King’s dream is becoming a reality, evidenced by this year’s presidential candidates, including a woman, Hillary Clinton, and a black U.S. senator, Barack Obama.
"We have (Barack) Obama who’s running for president, and Hillary, and that shows right here that the 40 years is coming to fruition," Sheats said. "It’s slow, but it’s coming."