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LYNN HAVEN — The city of Lynn Haven and Advisory Committee for Urban Revitalization Equity held their 34th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Festival at Sharon Sheffield Park on Monday.
Observing Martin Luther King Jr. Day, local activists, politicians, vendors and residents joined together to honor the late civil rights leader’s life and message. George Hines Jr., coordinator of the booths and events, said the event is a great way to bring everyone throughout the community together.
“What we’re doing today is bringing up different people in different denominations, different societies and bringing them together for a fun day,” Hines Jr. said. “The kids are out of school today, you need to have something to do and the vendors are selling merchandise. It’s just a celebration of Dr. King’s idea of humanity, everybody coming together.”
Last year, the event was canceled due to COVID-19. Only recently being held in Lynn Haven within the last few years, Hines Jr. said it makes more sense because Lynn Haven has more diversity as far as leadership and saw its first elected Black mayor last year.
Hines said this event is meant to inspire individuals and promote King’s message.
“The motto of Dr. King is a day on, not a day off,” Hines Jr. said. “Everyone should be out doing some kind of community service and putting something together.”
President of the Democratic Women's Club of Lake County, Beverly Wall, said her organization was out getting people to sign up and register to vote, one of things King encouraged amongst his followers. However, she said the most important thing was that the festival goers remembered his message of love and unity.
“This is a man who believed that love could conquer anything and that if we loved one another, we would solve a lot of the problems in the community," Wall said. “He had a community that he saw, that he hoped would happen, let everyone know. I believe in that dream. And I believe that someday we might get there, but not there now, because we're tearing each other apart.”
Other organizations, like the NAACP, also focused on education and awareness to the younger generations. Trey Griffin, NAACP Youth Council president, said it’s important to teach the upcoming generations about things King acted against, such as voter suppression and lack of diversity, since the nation is still experiencing them.
“I think it was Abraham Lincoln who said something like, ‘not knowing your history, you can move back into it,’” Griffin said. “And of course, we're seeing that now. We have to raise awareness and raise our children to know that's not normal. You need to take care of yourself and to know about these things and his legacy."
Vendors, like artist Ricky Steele, had the chance to show off and sell their goods. Steele has attended the festival for the last 25 years, first as a patron and then showing off his first airbrush works. Now, Steele is referred to as an emotional painter, using acrylic paint to showcase meaningful scenes from specific historical eras, such as the civil rights eras or the recent protests for Black Lives Matter.
He said attending this event in MLK’s honor means everything to him.
“He fought to where we could have events like this and he fought for freedom,” Steele said. “He fought for the underprivileged. He fought for people, for it to be a fair society. So, I'm honored to be able to attend the MLK celebration. I really am.”
The event also gave individuals the chance to spread awareness of local Black history. For author and motivational speaker, Willy Spears, he used his booth to promote his books, including one about his great-grandfather, Hawk Massalina, an early Black pioneer in Bay County.
“I think it's a tragedy that we don't know our own history and so I wrote the book, so we can learn about the history, learn about this great man,” Spears said. “There's Massalina Drive named after him. They're rebuilding the Massalina apartments, which are named after him. I think it's good to get the history out, I want to write it. You know, books live forever.”
As the nation carries King's mission into 2022, Hines Jr. said we need to bring more awareness of the lack of diversity within our local people in power, whether it’s government officials, media personnel or board members.
“When you look at the City Commission, County Commission, on the census, in and around Bay County, it’s always all Caucasian, either if they get a woman and then they got the minority,” Hines Jr. said. “Women or minority women, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, other people. That’s what we need to do on our school boards, our commissioners. Otherwise, it’s just lack of diversity.”
Hines Jr. said the only way we can promote more diversity is to hold more events like the MLK Jr. Festival and teach future generations about King Jr.’s history, as well as their power to change their area.
“[The system changes by] Getting more and more people involved in the system, especially young African American people that get complacent with where they are and don't see a need to change,” Hines Jr. said. “They don't know the history because they haven't been taught the history.”
This article originally appeared on The News Herald: Bay County Florida's Lynn Haven holds Martin Luther King Jr. Festival