At 77 years old, Shirley Mize has never missed a Martin Luther King Jr. Day march in Gainesville, except for the one time she was recovering from knee surgery.
“We used to march by candlelight,” Mize said while smiling at the gathered MLK Day crowd on Monday, Jan. 20. “I can’t remember how many years it has been, but I’ve been taking my children since they were small. My oldest is 60 years old.”
Mize said she remembers a time in Gainesville when the color of her skin prohibited her from entering restaurants and using public restrooms.
“I’ve been marching in this for decades because Martin Luther King Jr. gave us the freedom to go places and enjoy our life,” she said. “He did a pretty good job.”
Her 55-year-old son, Tracy Mize, walked next to her, reminiscing fondly on his time attending the march as a kid.
Tracy Mize said King was the one who inspired him to follow Christ and help unite the community. He now spends most of his time working with the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, delivering food to people in need and donating time to his church.
By immersing himself in the community and participating in the MLK Day march each year, Tracy Mize said he aims to bring people together.
“I want to help unite people,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about, trying to get people coming that have never done this before. We all bleed the same blood, no matter what color or race you are.”
Jackie Lipscomb, the MLK march marshal and organizer of the celebration’s youth rally, echoed those same sentiments of unity as she strode through Gainesville on Monday. The 19-year-old Gainesville resident gathered among her peers and embraced the MLK Holiday program’s theme — rebuilding the village, change starts with you.
“I’m trying to get out that I’m one brick,” Lipscomb said. “It takes us as a people to start building and coming together as one. Sometimes, especially for the youth, you feel like nobody hears you. I want them to know that you can be heard, and you will be heard.”
Dozens more joined in the march on Monday, representing all ages and backgrounds.
Members of the Newtown Florist Club, Indivisible Lumpkin, Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier, Gainesville City Schools, Boy Scouts Troop 15, local churches and other community groups came out to celebrate the man who had a dream.
Before the march, the Newtown Florist Club held its 34th Year Holiday Observance Program at St. John Baptist Church in Gainesville.
The Rev. Rose Johnson, executive director of the Newtown Florist Club civil rights group, started the service off by reiterating the theme of the day, “rebuilding the village.”
She said the theme was intentionally designed to express what the Newtown Florist Club has witnessed as children who were raised in “the village.”
“This is what we want you to take away,” Johnson said. “That we witnessed this village when it was at its best. We have witnessed this village when it had a heart attack. We have witnessed this village when it went on life support. And, now we witness this village getting its heartbeat back.”
She called people to pay attention to the passion used in the event’s youth performances. Johnson said that “this will be the type of energy it will take to revive a village and lay a solid foundation.”
Three youth dramatizations, choreographed by Lipscomb, were spread throughout the program. The first displayed an African tribal dance; the second showed a piece inspired by the movie, “Harriet;” and the last depicted the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Alabama.
Between cheers, claps and standing ovations, multiple community leaders took the podium. They stood up for various causes in the community like supporting education, participating in the 2020 U.S. Census, understanding immigration and fixing the area’s affordable housing and homelessness crisis.
Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, the program’s keynote speaker, closed the event with a speech.
He raised the question, “Is justice the answer?”
“I would argue with you that in 2020, justice is not the answer,” Jackson said.
He pointed out examples where he found a tainted justice system in the U.S.
Instead of relying on justice, Jackson encouraged people to turn their gazes toward God’s kingdom.
In order to pursue the work of the kingdom, he said racism needs to be solved.
Jackson recounted a verse from the Bible in which God made man from Earth’s dust.
“I don’t understand racism,” Jackson said. “How can one shade of dust think it’s better than another shade of dust?”
For those who have a “dust problem,” he asked them to read the Bible.
“It says out of one blood God created people,” Jackson said. “Love one another, and do unto others as you would want done unto you. If we want to be about the work of the kingdom, we’ve got to work on solving this dust problem.”