Special to South Florida Times
FORT LAUDER5DALE — Leonard Wilkinson once marched with Martin Luther King Jr. for justice and civil rights, an action he saw as “the pathway to change for our people.”
The 78-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident reminisced on that time in 1963 as he stood Monday on Northwest 27th Avenue watching a different march, this one to salute the birth anniversary of the assassinated civil rights hero.
“[Blacks] were on the cusp of making things happen,” Wilkinson said. “We fought for and won several good union jobs, more of us were signing up for college educations. You could buy a house and raise your family right.”
“It was a new freedom that it brought about, a new freedom that I was fortunate enough to live but now wonder if it’s dying.” the South Carolina native said of the March on Washington that King led.
Wilkinson joined hundreds of Broward County
residents who gathered for a parade to keep King’s legacy alive on a day set aside across the nation to honor him.
The day’s events opened with a parade that started at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Elementary School, 591 N.W. 31st Ave., Fort Lauderdale, then traveled east on Sistrunk Boulevard to Northwest 27th Avenue and north to Dillard High School’s Otis Gray Football Field, 2501 N.W. 11th St.
At the parade’s conclusion, a standing-room-only non-violence rally emceed by William Penn House Jr. took place on Dillard’s football field.
“We know we have a problem with black-on-black violence all over the country, and MLK was against that,” Victor Houston, a former Black Panther Party member said during the rally. “And when MLK let the world know what America really was, how [blacks] were being mistreated, they killed him for that.”
People need to focus their fight on freedom, Houston said. “And that’s freedom of oppression. We all need to come together for the cause.”
Violence keeps the black community locked down, according to Jean Robert Sebastian of Pompano Beach. “Our seniors can’t go anywhere at night without fear and our children are afraid to compete scholastically for fear of being bullied and beaten.”
Rallies promoting non-violence need to continue, Sebastian said, adding, “We need to teach our youth that violence only delivers them to the prison doors. And we need to do this on more than just on MLK Day.”
Lauderdale Lakes City Commissioner Levoyd L. Williams told the rally that Martin Luther King Jr. Day was not about marching and remembering him “but about living out the things he started.”
“Look around now. Ask yourself, ‘Would Martin be proud of me today? What am I doing to make a difference?’” he said.
Joshua Davis, 14, of Lauderhill, who marched in the parade with the Kappa League of Fort Lauderdale, had an answer. He said that King’s work was still being done. “Dr. King was a fraternity member. And, in that spirit, the youth involved in the [Kappa] league are being mentored by adult males on leadership and development,” Joshua said.
“So, yes, [King] would be proud of me for setting goals and taking the steps to be a part of something positive, something greater than me that I know will enhance my future and education,” he said.
The rally closed with the battle of the high school bands. After two on-field performances Stranahan High’s Dragons beat out Dillard’s Force for the marching band trophy.
Macie Edwards, a Stranahan alumna, said she was happy to see her school win. “The performances were great, really impressive. The band has come a long way since I graduated in 1972. And it’s just good to see the positive efforts of our youths recognized,” she said.
Other performers included Phyl’s Academy Preparatory School band from Lauderdale Lakes and the Alliance for Musical Arts youth drum line from Opa-locka in north Miami-Dade County.
A schools essay competition was also part of the celebration of King Day in Broward County. The winners were:
Cameika Bromfield, 7, a first-grader in the YMCA Afterschool program at Rock Island Elementary, won in Division 1 (kindergarten-2nd grade).
Keyshawna Floyd, 10, a fifth grader at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Elementary, won in Division 2 (third-fifth grade).
Lance Miller, 12, a sixth-grader at Pinewood Elementary in North Lauderdale, won in Division 3 (middle schools).
Andres Alfonso (age not specified) of Atlantic Technical Center & Technical High School, won in Division 4 (high schools).
Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net
Photo: James Forbes/FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES
YOUTH ON THE MARCH: A contingent from Horace Mann Middle School marched in the annual parade honoring Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday in Liberty City.