Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service Project: ‘King’s Dream Unite’

BY LAURA MULROONEY, Neighborhood News Bureau

ST. PETERSBURG — As part of the nationwide Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, a substantial crowd gathered as a mural by local artist Ya La’ford was unveiled on the north side of the historic Manhattan Casino in Midtown Monday.

Titled “King’s Dream Unite,” La’ford and 25 students from MYcroSchool Pinellas, a tuition-free, dropout recovery, public charter high school, painted the expansive 30’x30’ mural in one week with what was described as a “tremendous amount of paint.”

“King’s Dream Unite” is a community mural where La’ford admits the community helped her realize Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.

“The mural is about unity, this is about how we’re connected, this is about how we can pull and collaborate the community together where I am not only exposing you to the visual but also to the dance and to the music, I am kind of forging these forces together to have something so impactful to the community,” she said.

The event Monday began with the roar of the Mt. Zion Progressive Community Marching Band. The 13-percussion piece ensemble’s force and presence brought the crowd alive with the beat of their drums and crash of their cymbals.

“The pounding of the drums represents our heartbeats coming together,” said La’ford at the end of the event.

Jacqueline Williams Hubbard, Esq./Pres., St. Pete Chapter, The Association for the Study of African American Life and History spoke of the importance of the mural’s location on the side of the historic Manhattan Casino. For 40 years the Manhattan Casino played an instrumental role in south St. Petersburg arts, entertainment, and cultural development in the 1920s when Jim Crow segregation laws were still prevalent.

The Moving Mural, a collaborative dance and song presentation performed by dancer and rehearsal director Helen Hansen French, singer Becca McCoy, MYcroSchool students and Mt. Zion Impact Dance Ministry confirmed that arts and entertainment still thrive in Midtown.

La’ford along with Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin, Councilwomen Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Darden Rice and Chris Steinocher, president and CEO St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce cut the ribbon as the tarp simultaneously raised, revealing the unified efforts of a diverse community.

The mural consists of a black background with silver intersecting geometrical lines starting from the base of the building like tree roots that grow upwards to form the trunk and then a circular crown. The crown embraces two illuminated circles, one inside the other. A description by La’ford is essential to understand the magnitude of the piece.

“Black represents the color of our people, the lines forge together in silver, silver being one of the oldest and most precious metals, as precious as our people. The three circles represent all of us rotating around each other for infinity. The geometric patterns represent how all of our lives intersect, everyone’s life journey may have traversed to the left or to the right but they will all intersect at some point. The center two circles are illuminated to acknowledge the presence of a higher being connecting us all together.”

La’ford consistently involves children in her art to show that art is in everything that they do and see. This project provided MYcroSchool Pinellas students with the opportunity to participate in something they would not have normally done.

The mural unveiling also included a free book giveaway for students and children courtesy of Keep St. Pete Lit and Bluebird Books. Students received bookmarks where they could write their response finishing MLK Jr.’s famous sentence “I have a dream.”

Laura Mulrooney is a reporter in the Neighborhood News Bureau at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

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