martin-luther-king-jr_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

FORT LAUDERDALE – It was a day of jubilee, recalls Pompano Beach Commissioner Woodrow “Woody” Poitier, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday was finally declared a national holiday by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. The designation marked the third Monday of January as a time for the nation to honor King’s birth, life and the rights he fought for—freedom, equality, and dignity for all, and his vision of education and leadership for blacks.

“We were extremely happy and shortly after we also named a street after him,” Poitier said. “Anything that had to do with Martin Luther King has always spurred the community on and got us closer together. That’s why you always see a street named after him in every city and a celebration of his birth definitely a part of every community.”

Broward County, like cities across the country, also seeks to keep King’s memory alive by staging numerous events each year. Poitier said that a key focus of the events is to pass on his legacy and philosophies to the younger generation, for whom the impact of the holiday may seem less momentous. 

“Today’s youth [are] not about the community and things that were important to us,” said Poitier.  “In my city, we do work programs in the summer and try to give them a chance to make money. We try to get them to participate at the Boy’s Club and try to get them young. But they’d rather just hang around the block with their pants hanging down.”

Poitier contends that of the youth that can be reached, some may become effective leaders who emulate King’s vision. One MLK event is designed specifically for youth. The summit, “Change Yourself before You Can Change Me,” will use panel discussions and musical, cultural and dramatic presentations to address issues faced by black youth. It will take place on Saturday, Jan. 15 at the African American Research Library and Cultural Center.

“Our theme this year is ‘Re-Claiming the Dream,”’ and from my perspective, that’s what we need to do. We need to reclaim the idea of achievement, the idea of academic success, education, and civil service in our communities and in our homes,” said Wayne Alexander, chair of Fort Lauderdale's Martin Luther King Celebration Committee, the event's sponsor. 

A mainstay of most King celebrations is the annual parade. Broward County’s King Day procession takes place on Monday, Jan 17. The parade will begin at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School located at 591 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard/ NW 31st Ave., and end at Dillard High School. The parade will be followed by a program and tribute to the late local activist Kwame Afoh.

The program will feature keynote speaker Tim King, founder of the Urban Prep Academies in Chicago, a network of all-male public schools that has gained national attention for its high academic achievement. Last year, 100 percent of the first graduating class was accepted to a 4-year college or university despite coming from underprivileged backgrounds.

Lauderhill Commissioner Margaret Bates said that beyond the parades and speeches, the King holiday is a reminder to keep the dream alive by helping children to understand that their rights to vote, to achieve an education, and pursue high aspirations were not always a given. To that end, she said, Lauderhill includes its students in a spelling bee and brain bowl competition about the Civil Rights Movement.

“It is a legacy that we need to ensure that our children are aware of,” said Bates. “That’s why we in Lauderhill have garnered the participation of elementary and middle school children in teaching them about the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s involvement. Dr. King fought, marched and had a dream that we are still trying to make a reality.”

Tracy Ann Taylor may be contacted at