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St. Pete MLK Celebrations turn virtual as pandemic lingers

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Posted at 5:21 PM, Jan 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-18 23:15:16-05

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — ST. PETE, FLA.- On Monday, St. Petersburg Martin Luther King Jr. Parade organizers decided to continue a 35-year tradition in a nontraditional format.

This year, St. Petersburg’s MLK Celebration, which is one of the nation’s longest-running parades, was held virtually to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

It’s an event that typically brings thousands of people to downtown St. Petersburg, but event organizers decided instead of canceling the annual event like Lakeland and Plant City, or pushing it back like Tampa, to put together a video honoring Martin Luther King Jr’s impact on our community.

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Quanette Feazell, who volunteers at the Advantage Village Academy and helped put the event together, says they wanted to still find a safe way to celebrate.

“We cannot go a year and not celebrate his work he put into the community in order for us to do what we’re doing today,” she explained.

State Senator Darryl Rouson said he was 7 years old when Dr. King died.

"Me and my sisters were watching TV with my grandmother who was babysitting us and what I remember is her crying, her screaming out in pain. After that I did a lot of research on Dr. King and actually memorized the 'I Have a Dream' speech and really found out how significant he was to my freedom, to my liberty and that of my community," said Darryl Rouson.

Yvette Lewis, President of the Hillsborough County branch of the NAACP, said people recognized Dr. King's legacy with a national day of service.

"It is a day on instead of a day off. It's a day of service which is great, but also pick up a book and educate yourself. The parades are wonderful, but after the parade, pick up a book and read a couple of chapters and understand what the Civil Rights movement was really about," said Yvette Lewis.

Pop-up celebrations helped smaller groups come together to honor King’s life and legacy.

Eric Atwater, the owner of Atwater’s BBQ and Soul Food, says it’s not about the parade, but the lessons King instilled in all of us to move forward, even following a year where racial tensions and a global pandemic took center stage.

“It’s a time where people can come together, put your mask on and love one another. White people, black people, poor people, rich people. Everybody working together, getting along and that’s what it’s all about," Atwater said.

Despite not having a parade for small businesses to sell their goods, vendor Brandie McClary says she’s already looking forward to next year and hopefully the return of all the fanfare.

“Right now is rough times for a lot of people but we gotta stay positive and make the best of what we’re dealt,” she said with positivity.