The Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration was full of excitement this year from beginning to end. The NAACP Jackson County Branch organized a day of events for the community that consisted of a prayer breakfast, parade and a worship service. The theme was “Keep It Moving” which was chosen by the branch's leadership to echo their main focus which is to build on what has already been established and to keep moving forward. The day started with the prayer breakfast where it was standing room only at 2nd West Baptist Association Fellowship Hall. Marianna Middle School Youth Unchained sang so beautifully to start the program. Shareta Wright-Green of the Wright Foundation was the keynote speaker. She urged the crowd to stay true to their commitment no matter what political affiliate, but to stay true to the mission that has been given to them by doing what's right.
The celebration continued with the parade in a new location. In the past, the parade has been held on Orange Street but was moved to downtown, starting on Madison Street, continuing on Lafayette Street and ending on Wynn Street. The NAACP Jackson County leadership felt the parade should be more visible since it celebrated a national holiday that honored a man who changed the world. They also saw the need for more space due to the number of participants this year. There were 72 entries in the parade, the largest it has ever been. The parade consisted of elected officials, churches, civic organizations, youth groups, businesses, political candidates, biker clubs, beauty queens and a band. As the parade so eloquently moved down Lafayette Street, the crowd cheered and expressed a feeling of excitement and pride as they stood by and watched.
Following the parade, the celebration continued at 2nd West Baptist Association with the worship service. The opening prayer was given by Moderator Riley J. Henderson. Ronstance Pittman, Vice President Jackson County NAACP, welcomed the crowd and encouraged them by reciting one of Dr. King's quotes that reflected the theme: “If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” A tribute to Dr. King was given by Daniel Martin who recited excerpts of King's “I Have A Dream” speech. The United Voices for Christ Mass Choir of Jackson County sang inspirational songs throughout the service. Dr. Rufus Wood, President Bay County NAACP, was the keynote speaker who brought the crowd to their feet by delivering a powerful message titled “Keys to Realizing the Dream in 2016”. Dr. Wood spoke about dream haters, dream takers and dream makers. He urged the audience to be aware of all 3 kinds of people. He referenced some of today's injustices and stated: “Respond to the dream haters with love. Our love must be kind not gushy, dynamic but not forceful.”
Patricia Patterson, President Jackson County NAACP, stated: “Today was wonderful. I am overjoyed and happy that this MLK Celebration was so great. The participation and response that we got from the community was awesome and I am really thankful”. She encouraged people to join the NAACP, expressing the need for everyone's help in order to educate and empower the communities in Jackson County. As people left the last event of the day, there was a sense of happiness, inspiration and rejuvenation in the air. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who stood for justice, righteousness and peace, would have been proud of the day's celebration honoring him. The events which were a reflection of who he was and also presented a profound message demonstrating his dream for all of us.....equality, love and progression. A message saying, “Keep it Moving”.