ST. PETERSBURG – It was 1985, two years after President Ronald Reagan signed the King Holiday Bill establishing the third Monday of every January as a federal holiday, when Sevell Brown, III had a vision from God to start a national parade honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the tradition of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and others like it.
After the death of his grandmother on All Hallows’ Eve 1985, he turned his grief into America’s MLK National Parade in the space of two months. The first year saw a crowd upwards of 25,000 people. For the first time in American history, white and African-American marching bands marched together in salute and tribute to Dr. King.
For the last 20 years, crowds have averaged around 100,000 in attendance, all packed onto Central Avenue. With marching bands from some 15 states across the country, Brown’s vision turned into the largest parade honoring Dr. King in the Southeastern United States.
To kick off the 31th anniversary of this homegrown MLK event series, the National Christian League of Councils (NCLC) and The Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday & Legacy Association, Inc. hosted the Drum Major for Justice Awards Banquet Fri., Jan. 15 at the Hilton St. Petersburg.
This year Attorney Paul Rebein of Rebein Bergerter Rebein, Law Firm, P.A. played the part of Master of Ceremonies. A platinum sponsor, he was also the honorary chair of the banquet.
“I feel an immense weight, a need to say something significant and so I tried to get some inspiration,” stated Rebein, remarking that he watched some of King’s speeches and read some of his writings leading up to the banquet. However, he felt he needed poetic inspiration and turned to the most popular song of 2015.
He pulled out his phone so that he could read the lyrics just so: “Now watch me whip. Now watch me nae nae. Now watch me whip whip. Watch me nae nae,” he recited to a room full of laugher.
The keynote speaker for the evening was international renowned Pastor Helvius L. Thompson, senior pastor of Grace Temple Seventh-day Church in Fort Worth, Texas. He had the privilege to hear Dr. King speak in Detroit and also attended his funeral.
Thompson said that God has given everyone the capacity and the ability to dream. People dream of financial freedom, success, romance, power and progress. He named off dreamers throughout history such as Martin Luther who ushered in the Protestant Reformation; the Wright brothers who brought about the age of flight and Charles Drew who made blood transfusions possible.
“If you have a mind you must have a dream for we are created by God to dream,” stated Thompson, who continued on by saying that people will not always acknowledge, accept or endorse your dreams.
He warned not to share your dreams with the wrong people, and be careful that you do not assault the dreams of children, “but we must motivate them and empower them to dream.”
“Non dreamers know how to destroy dreams,” he said. Non dreamers will sometimes kill both the dream and the dreamer.”
Thompson went on to tell the account of Joseph in Genesis 37. When he was 17 years old he had two dreams that showed his brothers bowing down to him, which made them plot his demise.
“Joseph was a dangerous dreamer,” he said, stating that his brothers despised him and his dreams.
He said both Joseph and Dr. King were hated for their dreams. Dr. King had the audacity to dream of an America with racially equality and justice for all. He dreamed of a nation free of racism, bigotry and discrimination. “He had a dream that would truly make America great.”
Dr. King not only dreamed, he put his dreams into action with marches, freedom rides, boycotts, demonstrations and even going to prison.
“Men are dangerous who dream dreams and put their dreams into action,” he said quoting T.E. Lawrence.
Thompson said when the walls of segregation began to crumble and laws were being challenged and changed, his enemies then tried to “discredit the dreamer.” Finding it appalling that the FBI watched his every move to find something that would bring the movement to a halt, they even recruited black leaders and trusted friends who fought with Dr. King to criticize him.
“You can’t attack the dreamer without causing damage to the dream,” he said, admitting that Dr. King had his shortcomings but never did he attack his attackers who were guilty of doing what they accused him of.
On August 28, 1963, when Dr. King spoke of his dream, Thompson said, he had pronounced his own death. Going back to the account on Joseph, his brothers said in Genesis 37: 19 and 20 to kill Joseph and “we shall see what will become of his dreams.”
“They killed the dreamer, but the dream lives on,” stated Thompson, who then said the dream in America is still unrealized and unfulfilled even after the election of the first African-American president.
“As we see racism emerging openly again in American in spite of having a black president…As we see young black boys shot down and executed by vicious policeman…As Congress stifles programs that would help black Americans and the poor, the dream is unrealized and unfulfilled,” he exclaimed.
Today it is not the content of the character, Thompson believes, but it’s still the color of one’s skin “economically, educationally and legislatively.” Thompson said that in many ways we have retrogressed from the advancements of the Civil Rights Movement and the dream of Dr. King is still unfulfilled.
Three and a half years after the “I have a dream” speech, Dr. King declared that his dream had become a nightmare. He told a reporter that “old optimism” of the Civil Rights Movement was “a little superficial” and now needed to be tempered with “a solid realism.” But Dr. King did not give up on his dream and the nightmarish realities.
“Even though the dream has turned into a nightmare, it’s still a good dream…It is still an important dream,” said Thompson, stating that we must continue to fight for and labor for the dream and do everything we can to make progress.
Entertainment provided by the St. Pete Mime Ministry, gospel recording artist Elder Kelvin Jackson and national gospel recording artist Derek Smith all had the room on their feet. The night ended with everyone holding hands and singing “We Shall Overcome.”