This past Monday Oakland Park’s community of Churches, city officials, elders and young people came together to celebrate the legacy of not only Dr. Martin Luther King, but also their African American heritage. After many opening remarks, including a moving and powerful speech recited by Rev. Cheree Mojeplo reminding us that there is still work that remains to be done despite the progress we’ve made as a nation, a room of 350 local patrons sang the negro national anthem in unison.
It was in this moment that it became clear that this was more than just a day out, with food, music and bounce houses. This was a memorial to the man who sparked this change in our society and the example he set with his life.
A bright Florida afternoon set the stage for generations to mingle and share in the festivities. With dance performances by “We Fight To Tell Stories,” a praise dance ministry devoted to providing an outlet for young people age 5-18 to express themselves, and the “Hearts of Compassion” praise dance team from the local church branch, the heritage of the community was beautifully commemorated.
We Fight To Tell Stories showcased both contemporary and modern hip hop dance styles, with the talent and emotionality of the girls performing leaving the audience spellbound. The classic step performance of the award winning step team “Tic Tic Boom” pounded the stage with rhythmic power. It was a powerful reminder of the style of dance and personality born out of the hardship of the African American culture, namely perseverance and strength. And through it all, the vein of faith was strong and universally recognized as a cornerstone to their success as community as Hearts of Compassion openly worshiped and praised to Gospel music.
The dance performances were followed by a poetry reading by Miss Leannie Bennet, age 7, of “Hey, Black Child.” In this way the youth was celebrated and uplifted by this event as well, reminding them of their inner strength and ability despite what society might say, just as Dr. King had promoted during his time.
Pastor Hardy, of Mount Zion Church, who coordinated this event, made it his mission to make the day fun and memorable for the children, not just the adults. His main concern was creating engaging time that not only educated the attendees about the life and legacy of MLK, but also allowed them to be involved themselves through fun trivia questions, prizes, kid zones, and community presentations.
While there were so many young people present and involved, there were also the elders of the community who knew what Oakland Park was like during MLK’s era. Sandra Edwards, 65, born and raised in Oakland Park, was a student at the Old Oakland Negro School, back when south Florida were still segregated. Pearly Mae Clark and her sister have lived through the changes of this town, seen dirt roads get paved down Dixie Highway, and rejoiced when Florida finally abolished the segregation laws and joined the movement for equality that was already established in the northern states like New Jersey where she spent much of her younger years.
“When you get where you’re going, don’t forget where you came from,” Mrs. Edwards reminded me, as she reflected on the progress that has been made in Oakland Park.
To see the youth excited and engaged in a moment in history along side the elders and officials, like BSO and the City Mayor, was truly special. There was an undeniable joy and ease, despite the tragic past, the moments that left scars. This was a celebration of overcoming hurt, rejoicing though and after the trails, and taking pride in the unique culture that developed because of those trails. Oakland Park truly owned the progress made through the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, with young and old alike proudly declaring “His dream was for me.”
Brittany Hopwood was born and raised in Broward County and completed her Bachelor’s in English from the University of Central Florida. As an avid writer and artist, she spends most of her time designing new pieces for her self-care jewelry line, Violstones, and revising her most recent novel, written this past year. Her passion for writing and overcoming mental illness has lead her to develop a devotional Ebook based on her experience with overcoming severe depression, which she hopes to release later in 2020.