King called ‘the drum major for righteousness’
By Ken Jackson
The spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was alive in the communities of Osceola County Monday on the day the nation sets aside to honor the civil rights leader.
A parade, a day of community service and an annual banquet highlighted the festivities.
The morning began with the inaugural Holiday Parade and Cultural Festival, organized by the Florida Civil Rights Association in downtown Kissimmee. Recording artist Lillie McCloud, who recorded four albums under the stage name Nicole and advanced to the fifth week of Season 3 of The X Factor, shared the honor of grand marshall with Kissimmee City Commissioner Jose Alvarez. The procession worked its way down Broadway from Ruby Street to Dakin Avenue, and from there the festivities worked their way to Lakefront Park.
In St. Cloud, nearly two dozen volunteers made use of the work holiday to spruce up Hopkins Park during the city’s annual Day of Service. The work began in the morning to improve landscaping around the entrance, give poles, sheds and other surfaces a fresh coat of green paint, and pressure wash, stain and put a new coat of weatherproofing on some wooden benches and other surfaces.
Those working outside had picture-perfect weather in which to do it. Inside the park’s main building, volunteers were sorting through donated books to create a children’s library at the community center.
The Day of Service has become an annual event in St. Cloud, and volunteers show up at a different city facility to turn Martin Luther King Jr. Day into a day out instead of a day off.
“I’m grateful that we were chosen this year, and I’m grateful for the help,” St. Cloud Recreation Supervisor Demetrius Chappell, whose main responsibility is Hopkins Park, said.
A longtime volunteer who goes by “Ms. Lillian” said the Day of Service project directly benefits where the needs of the community are to immediately help the people who use and rely on it.
“The community is getting something back. They say, ‘the squeaky wheel gets the oil,’ well something like this sees to it that the oil is applied to the right place,” she said. “We’ve made a big difference here over a year or two ago, and this is a great way to celebrate Dr. King.”
But the biggest celebration of what Dr. King stood for and means to people came Monday evening at the Kissimmee Civic Center at Osceola Visionaries’ 24th annual commemoration banquet.
Rev. Michael C. Woods, a pastor at St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church of Kissimmee delivered a passionate keynote address about how Dr. King was “the drum major for righteousness,” and that even 40 years after his death, King’s dreams must be fulfilled.
“Walt Disney was a dreamer. His dream was Epcot, but the theme park was not his dream,” Woods said. “His vision was of an environmental city, a perfect city. Martin Luther King was a dreamer like Walt Disney. His dream was a world where racial injustice would be eradicated.”
Woods preached a variation of King’s message of “No justice without peace, no peace without justice,” and implored that resistance to injustice must come in a just manner.
“Darkness cannot cure darkness, only light. Hate cannot cure hate, only love. We have come to remember the dream,” he said. “This is not a time to sleep on Dr. King’s dream. We need more home-grown black lawyers, judges to sit on the bench and elected officials.”
Osceola Visionaries honored three minorities in the local community at the banquet. Reginald Hodge, the director of informational technology for the Florida Turnpike Authority, became the first African-American elected to serve as Kissimmee Utility Authority’s board director. Sheryl Alexander spent 36 years as an educator in Osceola County, was the first African-American teacher at St. Cloud High School, and started the school’s first girls’ basketball team in the mid-1980s. And Kissimmee City Commissioner Wanda Rentas, a female Hispanic, carries the torch for two minority groups.
“We too, women, have our struggle,” she said. “I am living Dr. King’s dream.”