Community figures honored Dr. King's legacy on Jan. 18.
It was a smaller but no less spirited Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Newtown on Jan. 18.
Several Sarasota community and government figures came together to speak to King’s legacy and the work still needed to be done in the fight for equality and equity.
The event — put on by the Sarasota MLK Community Celebration organization— traded its typical breakfast and community march for a presentation and food voucher distribution to people in need due to COVID-19.
The committee presented MLK Community Activist Awards to Michael Kensey; former mayor and commissioner Willie Shaw; Mary Mack, Harvest Tabernacle food bank CEO Eureka Webb; and Second Chance Last Opportunity founder April Glasco.
The audience also heard from committee member Jetson Grimes, Mayor Hagen Brody, City Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch, and others.
Melanie Lavender, a born-and-raised Sarasota resident, bookended the presentation with two poetry pieces. The opener spoke to her experience taking midnight walks through Newtown to center herself at the start of the pandemic. She hopes people will find it in themselves to have more conversations with one another, to better understand each other and hopefully bring an end to racism and sexism.
Lavender said she had performed across Sarasota, but speaking her mind to an audience that included Sarasota leaders was a different experience.
“I’m always nervous, but always excited,” Lavender said. “You have people like Fredd Atkins, Commissioner Shaw, (Glenda (Williams) ... these are community people, to me they’ve always been superstars.”
The Multicultural Health Institute was also on hand to pass out masks, provide information about healthy eating and take people’s blood pressure. Dr. Lisa Merritt said she has several people return to the group each year to check their blood pressure and let her know how they’ve been doing with their health.
She presented the activist award winners with flowers and gifts as a token of appreciation from MHI for the years of work they’ve done in the community.
“(The gifts) were a pittance compared to what they’re worth,” Merritt said. “Each of them are friends and colleagues, we’ve been in the fight together for many years across all the domains of social deterministic health.”
Glasco also regaled the assembled crowd with a passionate rendition of “Thank You, Lord.”
Jones, who passes out food with her nonprofit to people in need in Newtown each week, said she felt honored by the award recognizing her service.
“It’s a special day,” Jones said. “We’re all walking into the unknown, this pandemic has got a lot of people off-balance. A lot of our children are suffering right, so every day I’m thanking the Lord for keeping me (here) to be able to help so many people.”