Youth advocate Annetta McCloud and leaders of the My Time Youth group in Newberry found a way to teach students what Martin Luther King Jr. Day means.
"We wanted something different for them to experience," said McCloud about what she hoped the kids would get out of marching and listening to speeches and songs to commemorate the birthday of the slain civil rights leader.
She has worked with children for more than 20 years and was a driving force along with Tammy Nattiel behind the tutoring group that meets at Newberry's Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center for after school tutoring.
This assignment was given so local youth could "find out the significance other than a day off from school."
A majority of the 30 students who are part of the group met up at the Newberry City Hall flag pole on Monday morning to open the experience with a prayer from Pastor Armon Lowery of Mt. Zura Full Gospel Baptist Church.
He asked that God bless the crowd of 75 as they "walk together, sing together, pray together."
Concerned Citizens of Newberry sponsored the event with the City of Newberry and it involved a catered meal, a praise dance by minister Lisa Darling, occasion words from Brenda Whitfield, presentations by My Time students, a keynote speech by Rev. Carl Smart—who is also the deputy manager of Alachua County—and songs by minister Marsha Lee and pastor Lowery. The event also included a voter registration presentation, a poem by Alachua County Poet Laureate E. Stanley Richardson and closing remarks by Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe, who is a history teacher at Newberry High School and an advocate for a the reconciliation movement in Newberry and Alachua County.
Izzy Davis, 6, and his brother Bam Davis, 9, marched along carrying homemade signs that read, "We are all God's Children," and another with a photo of King waving. The group traveled just under a mile down the sidewalk on Newberry Road and then through side streets escorted by a City of Newberry fire engine.
Along the way they sang "Amazing Grace" and "We Shall Overcome."
Former Newberry Commissioner Alena Lawson presided over the event and introduced Smart, the keynote speaker, as "a child of God and a serving leader."
Smart recognized Newberry's effort in truth and reconciliation accomplishments.
"Newberry has been leading the way," he said, referring to the soil collection ceremony.
King was a leader who fought for the rights of black people and poor people in the U.S and throughout the world, Smart said.
"He stood on the principle of peaceful protest," Smart said.
Smart then turned his comments toward MLK's passion to serve, encouraging the crowd to follow suit.
"Anybody and everybody can serve," Smart said. "Everybody has something to offer, everybody has something to contribute, and everybody has their own gift."
Referring to the famous 'I Have a Dream' speech, Smart said King would have mixed emotions about his line "that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'
"He would be amazed and he would be so pleased with a lot of the progress that we have made in this country," Smart said. "But I also believe he would be disappointed that a lot of the things that he expected would happen by this time are still not yet complete. He would be concerned about the acts of violence in our community. All the shootings, the guns and the weapons."
Smart said King would also lament the lack of equal education for all children.
"He would be surprised and amazed at the technology, social media and all the computers, laptops, iPads, cell phones and all, but he would want to make sure that ALL of our children had access to internet, ALL of them had access to broadband...and all the tools that gave them access to an equal education."
Smart also said MLK would be disappointed about the levels of homelessness, poverty and why housing has not been provided for everyone who needs it.
"He would be concerned about how this nation is divided so much socially and politically," Smart said.
"We're not there yet," Smart said as he closed his speech. "That wonderful dream is still not a reality for many black Americans, many minorities and poor people in our country."
Mayor Marlowe was the final speaker at the event and closed by paraphrasing his favorite King quote: "The most enduring question of our times is what are we doing to help others today?"
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only national holiday that causes us to ask this question, he said, thanking the volunteers of My Time for their efforts.
Marlowe also mentioned Newberry's commitment to the truth and reconciliation effort, which started in 2017.
"If you would have told me five years later that the city of Newberry and the citizens of Newberry quietly lead the way by example, not just in Alachua County but beyond, I would have said that's too much to hope for."
He mentioned Dudley Farm and the addition of home owned by former slaves being added to the property so that all of the history is acknowledged, including slavery.
"They will know the truth," he said about visitors to the state park that was just added to the list of National Historic Landmarks. "Newberry is pulling the Florida State Park Service into truth and reconciliation."
He thanked all involved in hosting the event and said he looked forward to seeing the crowd next year with even more updates.
Attendees of the event then stood up and came to stand in front of the podium one by one joining hands and singing, "We Shall Overcome."