Blue skies and breezy weather made for yet another pleasant celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy Saturday afternoon.
The Palmetto Youth Center hosted the annual parade, which is centered around honoring the revolutionary civil rights leader and educating the next generation about his contributions to society. The celebration draws thousands of attendants every year.
“We want to nurture our kids and make sure they know where we’ve come from and the sacrifices it took to get to this point,” said County Commissioner Reggie Bellamy, executive director of the Palmetto Youth Center. “The parade is just one part of that.”
The Multicultural Festival, an MLK essay contest and an educational religious service are a few of the other aspects that go hand-in-hand with the parade, Bellamy said.
“We want to diversify our community in all aspects. That’s why it’s so nice to see this turnout, the kids, the bands and everything,” Bellamy said.
Thousands joined in on the event that took over Palmetto roads near Lincoln Middle School. The parade, which began at noon, featured appearances from local officials such as Palmetto City Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant, City Commissioner Jonathan Davis and County Commissioner Misty Servia.
State Rep. Wengay “Newt” Newton, Palmetto Police Chief Scott Tyler and Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells also participated in the parade, which has become a tradition for many local residents.
Climmie Mitchell said she makes sure to attend the MLK parade every year. This year, she brought her 14-month-old granddaughter, who enjoyed watching the floats drive by.
“I come every single year because I just love it all,” Mitchell explained. “It’s lovely to see people enjoying themselves in the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
Marching bands from local high schools, dancers, community organizations and more made their way down the street, tossing beads and waving to the excited crowds along the sidewalk. While the event is a reminder of the fight for equal rights, some say it doubles as an opportunity to catch up with old friends.
“(MLK) had the dream and we continue to carry his legacy and with that said, we come and show our support every year,” said Toni Stuart, who attended the event to watch her grandchildren participate. “I love it, especially when it’s at peace like this and I get to see familiar faces.”
Just as important as Dr. King’s fight for equality, however, is taking advantage of the rights he helped earn, said Lillie Covington, a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. She sat at a table near the parade’s starting line to help sign up new voters.
“Martin Luther King was adamant about voters’ rights and we have always been at the forefront of that discussion,” Covington said, noting that political activism is one of Delta Sigma Theta’s priorities as an organization. “With the approval of Amendment 4, we need people to come out and realize they can vote.”
The best floats at the MLK parade were awarded trophies, event organizers said. The Zeta Youth Group won first place, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority earned second place, and the 11th Street Church of Christ came in third place.