JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Monday was dedicated to civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Jacksonville celebrated with the 33rd annual MLK Day parade and a post-parade event at Metropolitan Park.
Up a couple dozen participants back in the 1980s, the 2014 parade included more than 200 different bands, floats, vehicles and marching units. It was the largest in the city's history and wound through the streets of downtown for 2½ hours.
"It has grown over the period of years," said Richard Wilson, one of the founders of Jacksonville's MLK Foundation and one of those 25 who walked in that initial parade. "Dr. King set a precedent. He believed in marching for peace, justice, love -- and all races join hand and march in unity."
Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and Mayor Alvin Brown joined with dozens of community groups, schools, fraternities, sororities, motorcycle clubs and more groups to participate in the parade. Also represented were the Jacksonville Jaguars and Giants, as well as dozens of youth athletic associations.
"This is the one of the dreams that Martin Luther King had -- to be educated, and that's the dream realized," said Ceila Thomas, of Fill My Cup Ministries. "So we picked this day to give over 3,000 books today to kids (to) remind them to keep this dream alive. We can do and be whatever we want to be."
After the parade, the celebration continued with the celebration of the lives of two community leaders who passed away in 2013: Dr. Chester Aikens and Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Chief Jerome Spates.
Spates was named posthumous grand marshal for the parade because he was a huge supporter of the event.
"When we decided that his legacy, so to speak, would be the grand marshal. I mean, we had smiles in the room from ear to ear," said Gary Thomas, president of Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation.
After honoring Spates, Aikens and Nelson Mandela and other leaders organizers say Dr. King would be proud of, those gathered at Metro Park were treated to the "Let Freedom Ring" gospel concert.
"We want our young people to know about the man and the struggles that he went through; all of the liberties and freedoms that are enjoyed are result of Martin Luther King's work," said Ken Jefferson, Channel 4's crime and safety analyst who marched in the parade as a member of Save Our Sons.
For more information about the annual parade and event, visit mlkfdnorg.com.
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