South Florida celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day

01/20/2014 11:55 AM

01/20/2014 11:15 PM

Across South Florida Monday, kids, parents and community leaders joined for a day of parades, public service and inspirational speakers honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther King.

Leaders gathered at Jungle Island for an early 5000 Role Models scholarship breakfast, where

actor and director Charles Dutton told the crowd - including 124 honored teens in white shirts and signature red ties - that he found his calling in a prison play. He was serving a sentence for stabbing a man to death when he was a teenager.

“The last thing I want you to do is follow my example,” said Dutton, who went on to earn a master’s degree from Yale School of Drama, then appeared in various television shows, including Oz and Without a Trace.

Following the breakfast celebration, the annual MLK parade in Liberty City kicked off around 11 a.m. led by grand marshals the The Booker T. Washington Tornadoes, the No. 1 ranked high school football team in the nation.

Curt Bridges, a 5000 Role Models mentor from Alonzo and Tracy Mourning High School, brought his students from Jungle Island to the parade.

“I think it’s great for the community,” said Bridges, speaking about the message the parade sends. “These are my role models who got scholarships; my main focus is that they see we can come together as a community without violence.”

Kids too young to understand the concept of civil rights hung over sidewalk barricades, many wearing bright red firefighter hats catching candy tossed from passing floats.

“I love the parade,” said Dominque Henry, 26, of Liberty City. She fondly remembers when her mother brought her as a little girl, something she now does with her own little ones.

Her son, 2-year-old Ahmad, put his hands up to both sides of his face when the Carol City marching band passed by, their drums apparently too loud for tiny sensitive ears. When police motorcycles roared by, his cousin Kayla did the same.

“They’re too little to understand,” Henry said.

The parade route began at Northwest 54th St and 12th Avenue and stretched 20 blocks, culminating at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park. A crowd of all ages lined sidewalks with fold-up chairs, taking in the festivities, including stilt walkers, floats, bands, cheerleaders, live music, even a blue hearse carrying an anti-gun message. The smell of different grilled meats wafted through the air.

Trina Brown, visiting from Mississippi, brought her granddaughter to the celebration, with the hope that she will understand what it all means.

And, next year? Of course, I’ll come back,’’ she said. “If God gives me breath I'll be here.”

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