Palmetto Youth Center celebrates MLK during weekend events

PALMETTO -- The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, in the true spirit of the civil rights leader, is the time of the year the entire community works together, Palmetto Youth Center Executive Director Chris Lukowiak said.

To commemorate the civil rights activist famed for his "I Have A Dream" speech and organizing non-violent civil rights demonstrations, the Palmetto Youth Center is hosting its 22nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.

The weekend officially began with an awards banquet Friday night, and continues at noon Saturday with the 25th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade, which steps off from Lincoln Middle School, 305 17th St. E., Palmetto, followed by the Palmetto Multicultural Festival and the Youth Extravaganza at Lincoln Park, showcasing local talent.

Every year, about 20,000 people come watch the parade, which features more than 40 floats, ROTC

and public safety officials.

"Clearly, the community loves it," Lukowiak said of the parade turnout. "'I Have A Dream' motivates the young and the old in the community."

The weekend concludes at 6 p.m. Sunday with a public community church service for all denominations at Palmetto Youth Center, 501 17th St., Palmetto.

Lukowiak said the Palmetto community is deeply spiritual, with a history of pastors serving on the Palmetto Youth Center Board.

"The church service is just the cherry on the cake" of the weekend-long celebration of the Rev. King, he said.

"The community is generally faith-based, so we are ending the weekend with good praise and thankfulness," said Lukowiak, who has been with the center for more than a decade.

In previous years, 150 people attended the Sunday service but Lukowiak said he is hoping more people show up. The center can accommodate roughly 400.

"We would really like to see the church service grow," he said.

During the Manatee County Community Pastor's Fellowship Service, participating pastors and clergy from churches in Manatee and Sarasota counties include Bradenton First United Methodist Church Pastor Adam Zele, Community Outreach Pastor Dextor McDonald, Iglesia El Crucero Pastor Andy Avalos and Freedom House of God Church, the Rev. Eleanor Gillylan.

Sarasota's Trinity Christian Fellowship Center and Palmetto's Bible Baptist choirs will sing during the service.

House of God Church Pastor Ted Tillis, who also is on the youth center board, has been organizing the Sunday MLK weekend service for 20 years. Tillis said each year they have one white, one African-American and one Hispanic minister speak during the service to generate cross-cultural representation for a larger audience.

"The religious service is the culmination of the activities," Tillis said. "(King) preached consistently brotherhood and fellowship and in order to do that you have to communicate with one another, interact with one another. This is one method in order to interact with one another and have fellowship."

As part of the service, funds are raised to benefit the Manatee Religious Service, an organization that aids various community efforts and supports people in financial need, Tillis said. The Palmetto Youth Center donates the difference if at least $1,000 isn't raised, Lukowiak said.

"There is no better way to tie up a great weekend with honoring a wonderful human being," Lukowiak said. "We are saving the best for last."

Claire Aronson, University Parkway/Sarasota reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.