MLK Day in Cocoa evokes messages of equality during peace march
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Since civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, American has digressed from being one nation under God to becoming a nation of tribes, Rev. David Bryant Sr. of Greater St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church believes.
“We are tribes relative to politics. We are tribes in skin color. We are tribes economically. We are tribes by addresses,” Bryant told a crowd Monday during Cocoa’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day program at Riverfront Park.
“We no longer talk about the greater good. We talk about, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ” Bryant said.
“When is the last time you heard someone say, ‘I just want to be a good citizen?’ ” he asked.
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Cocoa’s 32nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day festivities kicked off with an afternoon peace march that started at Provost Park and proceeded east along State Road 520 for a bit more than a mile, concluding at Riverfront Park.
Three Cocoa police cruisers and 10 Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club bikers led the march, which was organized by the Central Brevard Ministerial Coalition. More than 200 people participated, a few pushing baby strollers and bicycles.
During the march, Tysha Pittman carried a large white banner promoting Jack and Jill of America’s Brevard County chapter alongside her daughters, Sasha, 11, and Tyren, 14. Founded by Black mothers, the organization encourages children to pursue leadership development, volunteer service, philanthropic giving and civic duty.
Pittman, a Cocoa resident who serves as chaplain of the Brevard chapter, said the King holiday represents freedom of speech.
“No matter what your opinion is, just being able to have it — not being squelched. Not being hushed just because you have a certain belief, or you look a certain way,” Pittman said while carrying the banner through Cocoa Village.
“That’s what this country was founded on,” she said.
At Riverfront Park, West Cocoa Mission Church offered grilled hot dogs, burgers, cake and pie, and a group of children and teens played football between the amphitheater and boardwalk.
The Florida A&M University National Alumni Association’s Brevard chapter collected canned goods and nonperishable food items during the event for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day-inspired service project.
Organizers will donate the food to the Central Brevard Sharing Center in Cocoa to help feed the impoverished. For information on how to donate, visit the chapter’s Facebook page.
“We remember Martin Luther King because of his fight for justice. A lot of people think it’s about his peaceful demonstration. But it’s actually his fight for social justice,” said Rockledge resident Karen Ivery, treasurer of the Florida A&M alumni chapter, standing near two tables covered with donated food.
“This is America, and everybody should have the same freedoms — and everybody doesn’t necessarily have the same freedoms. So it’s a day to remember Martin Luther King, so everyone can remember what that fight was,” Ivery said.
After the march wrapped up at Riverfront Park, a series of speakers addressed the audience from the amphitheater stage. Speakers included Cocoa Mayor Michael Blake and City Council Members Lorraine Koss and Alex Goins, who discussed King’s legacy.
Goins cited King’s influence in Cocoa’s employment of Brevard’s first black city manager, Stockton Whitten, and the city’s first black police chief, Evander Collier IV.
“All the work that so many people before us have done — going to jail, getting hosed down, dogs biting them — everything had a purpose. And again, let’s not stop the momentum,” Goins said.
Clarence Whipple Jr., president of the Central Brevard branch of the NAACP, told attendees that “not all is doom and gloom.” Rather, he said King’s positive messages should be taught to children to promote equality for the future.
Whipple related one of King’s signature quotes to the crowd: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
“Where do you stand? What are are you doing for society?” Whipple asked.
Rick Neale is the South Brevard Watchdog Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY (for more of his stories, click here.) Contact Neale at 321-242-3638 or email@example.com. Twitter: @RickNeale1