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LAKE WORTH BEACH — The first nationwide observance of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day took place in 1986 but it wasn't until eight years later that the city of Lake Worth jumped on board.
And it may not have happened then if not for Retha Lowe, the city's first Black commissioner who remains a pivotal community figure.
Lowe, who grew up in Boynton Beach, and has lived in Lake Worth Beach for 46 years, remembers attending MLK Day remembrance events in Boynton Beach and West Palm Beach and wondering why the holiday wasn't a big deal in her adopted hometown.
"Every city around us was celebrating and Lake Worth was doing nothing," said Lowe, 75. "Nobody was recognizing the fact that it was MLK Day. So I said, 'Let's do something.'"
That was 1994.
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This weekend, Lowe will oversee her 28th annual MLK Day celebration, which has morphed into a three-day event culminating in a candlelight march that begins at City Hall, located at 7 North Dixie Highway, and ends at the MLK “Ball” Memorial in the Cultural Plaza on M Street and Lake Avenue.
The march, set for Monday at 5:30 p.m., began with a "few Black people" and their allies walking together, Lowe said.
Over the years, crowds have increased into the hundreds, drawing from every section of Lake Worth Beach's highly-diverse population. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, the city has a majority-minority demographic, including more than 45 percent identifying as Hispanic. Blacks make up just under 20% of the city.
"We have unified ourselves to where we have an array of people – Blacks, whites, Spanish, Guatemalans, Haitians – coming together and marching with us," Lowe said.
Lake Worth's forgettable history surrounding race
Lowe has been around long enough to remember that wasn't always the case.
Lake Worth has a forgettable history surrounding race including the construction of a 1,100-foot long wall built on Wingfield Street in 1954 to separate whites from Blacks and officially-sanctioned segregation until 1969.
"We have come a long way in following the dream that Dr. King left behind," said Lowe, a city commissioner from 1995 to 2007. "We continue to dream, but a lot of things have changed."
Including how the city celebrates the holiday for the iconic civil rights leader.
Lowe said the first few MLK Day marches in Lake Worth Beach were limited to the municipality's historical Black neighborhood — once known as the Osborne Colored Addition — in the city's south end. The occasion was more of a block party than citywide event.
With the assistance of community organizer Ted Brownstein and Paul Blockson, fire chief of Lake Worth's fire department before it merged with the county, Lowe pushed to get the city involved.
Around five years after the first march, it moved to City Hall as a starting point.
"Retha has been a leader in the community since she moved to Lake Worth Beach," said Brownstein, author of 'Pioneers of Jewel,' the story of Samuel and Fannie James, a mixed-race couple who were among the first settlers in what is now Lake Worth Beach.
The city that once didn't bother to commemorate MLK Day is now the center of its celebration in Palm Beach County.
A full schedule of MLK events this weekend in Lake Worth Beach
This year's event will begin Saturday with a community service day sponsored by Healthier Lake Worth. Volunteers will gather at the Lake Worth Municipal Gym at 1515 Wingfield Street beginning at 9 a.m. for a cleanup of the surrounding neighborhood.
Lowe said volunteers will also deliver breakfast on Saturday to 20 seniors in the community who are unable to leave their homes.
"Dr. King said, 'Let's get out there and do something for our community," Lowe said. "That's what we do."
On Sunday, events shift to St. Andrews Episcopal Church at 100 N. Palmway for a musical presentation at 2 p.m. by touring company Core Ensemble that will showcase Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to serve in the U.S. Congress.
The annual MLK interfaith breakfast, which serves up to 300 people, has been moved this year to an outdoor brunch at the Bryant Park amphitheater beginning at 11 a.m. A presentation featuring local youth performers will follow.
The weekend culminates with the blocks-long candlelight march. All events are free and open to the public.
"These 28 years have made a great difference to our community," Lowe said. "Every year, it gets better and better."
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Lake Worth Beach celebrates MLK holiday weekend with service, march