Those celebrating the dream of famed civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during his birthday weekend did so with honor and enthusiasm Saturday afternoon during the 25th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade in Palmetto.
Hundreds of spectators lined 17th Street at noon eager to see more than 40 floats filled with children from local ministries and youth groups, high-school ROTC cadets, marching bands, Girl Scouts, cheerleaders, debutantes and local city and county officials, all giving away candy and beads to an excited crowd,
The theme of this year's parade, "Remembering the Dream" of racial equality made famous in King's "I Have a Dream" speech, and his commitment to non-violence came alive at the parade through the organizing efforts of the Palmetto Youth Center.
The center also organized a post-parade celebration to honor King's legacy of peaceful social change, inviting everyone to Palmetto's Lincoln Park for a Youth Extravaganza and Multicultural Festival that showcased local musical talent.
For longtime board member Frankie Craddock, the entire day was meaningful, especially for the children who participated.
"The program all ties into the history of the Martin Lu
ther King (Jr.) era and a lot of our youngsters don't know that history. Every year, this gives them a little more of a feel for how bad it was back then when he was alive and how he made it possible for a lot of good things to happen."
Manatee County Commissioner Charles Smith, a supporter of the parade and its accompanying festivities since he first served as a Palmetto city commissioner, said he was pleased with the turnout and the opportunity for children and adults to come together in fellowship.
"This gives everyone a chance to be in a safe environment for about seven hours and they can go home and enjoy the rest of the weekend. This is what King stood for -- non-violence," Smith said.
Emmanuel God's Church sponsored a float with 48 students from two youth ministries, the theme of which was "Rolling With the Dream in 2015," and took first place in the parade. North Manatee Storm placed second with its float, "Team Pride," and taking third place was ZETA with its float, "Celebrating Dr. King's Dream."
"No matter what race and creed, (King's) dream of being united and walking together as brothers and sisters of God, that's what we are," said youth director Michael Crumbs, and was echoed by his ministry member, Previan May, 13, of Johnson Middle School in Bradenton: "Everyone should try and get along."
For Terri Smith, sitting in the sun watching the parade had special significance. She grew up in Palmetto and her family has a history dating there back to 1928. Just returned after living in North Carolina for 22 years, Smith called the event, "awesome."
"So many of us have dreams that never come to fruition. To know that we've been able to make King's vision come alive, that's what we have to say to our children. It's not just a man having a dream, a vision, it's a reality," said Smith, who praised everyone in Manatee County who came out for the parade.
Jometa Roberts, who watched her son march with the Palmetto High School Junior ROTC, also was enthused by the turnout.
"At one point, they dropped off, but it's getting better again. I think it's wonderful we can all get along and enjoy the day, And it's a beautiful day too."
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.