JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After 32 years of one event in Jacksonville honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there were two competing MLK celebrations in Jacksonville on Friday morning.
City Hall and local civil rights groups worked together on the event until last year, when the collaboration fell apart and some groups boycotted the event. This year, the local chapters of the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Urban League had their own MLK breakfast at a Southbank hotel at the same time the city hosted its annual event at the Prime Osborn Convention Center. Both were sold out.
"We have an issue of communication across racial lines and an issue of communication as it relates to the power of this community, and what we’re saying is, we need to listen," said Richard Danford, president of the Jacksonville Urban League. "What we’re talking about is economic equality, you know. We need to provide the city’s resources to all of the city, not just those who provide funds for various candidates."
Some of the civil rights groups say the city didn't involve them in the planning for last year's breakfast, but the mayor's office said they were invited to several meetings. Politics was also a point of conversation this year.
Mayor Lenny Curry attended the city's event, while his mayoral running mate, Jacksonville City Councilwoman Anna Lopez Brosche, was seen at the opposing event.
Demonstrators showed up to protest Friday morning outside the city's breakfast, which featured the mayor as well as keynote speaker Christopher Gardner, whose autobiography, "The Pursuit of Happyness," was made into a motion picture featuring Will Smith.
The protesters held signs that said "MLK Dreamt Lenny Curry out of office" and "Dr. MLK wouldn't be here today" with the #LennyCurryOutNow.
"I would like to see more job programs come into play, maybe some community programs for children, as well, because that's where it starts. It starts nurturing economically," protester Holli Rimsey said. "The infrastructure on the Northside is just absolutely horrid. He's not doing anything to nurture the Northside. There's food deserts. It's absolutely ridiculous when white people in Mandarin or Ponte Vedra have all the economics and there's little to none in the black communities. People are going to do some things that they might not be proud of because they need to make ends meet, and we're not giving the people what they need to make ends meet."
Despite all the noise outside, Earl Chaney, who attended the city's MLK breakfast at the Prime Osborn, and others said they didn't lose sight of what the events were really about.
"Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday -- had to celebrate and remember the time and give back," Chaney said. "Not only do I feel satisfied as far as the food, but I feel satisfied from the food I get from the speakers, the knowledge."
The demonstrators left around 8 a.m., as the event hosted by the civil rights groups was beginning across the river. That event featured Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III, senior pastor of Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas.
Charles Griggs, with the 100 Black Men of Jacksonville, told WJCT News ahead of the events that many people were torn on which one to attend.
“They simply would like this to be a civil rights organizations-led event, much like it was in the past, with input being equal to that of the city,” Griggs told 89.9's Melissa Ross.
After the events, News4Jax reached out to Isaiah Rumlin, the president of the Jacksonville Chapter of the NAACP. He said me it's too early to tell if the separate breakfasts will continue next year, but said they want a unified MLK breakfast with the city, including input on the planning and speakers.
Curry sent the following statement:
Dr. King’s remarkable life is worthy of celebration; there’s plenty of room to honor the tremendous contributions and sacrifices he made to and for our nation. This Friday, we will host the City’s 32nd annual Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial breakfast with a record attendance of 1,500 registrants. While we extended and maintain our invitation to the SCLC and NAACP to participate on our MLK Breakfast Host Committee [Jacksonville Urban League is a participating member], we respect and applaud their efforts to also recognize Dr. King’s legacy in the manner they deem best reflects his vision."
A third breakfast in honor of King will occur at 8 a.m. Saturday when the Baptist Ministers Conference of Duval and Adjacent Counties has its 20th annual breakfast at the downtown Hyatt Regency Riverfront Hotel. The guest speaker will be U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who was mayor of Kansas City.