MLK Family Fun Day

By Allen A. Buchanan, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — An estimated 4,000 people came out to the inaugural MLK Family Fun Day held at Tropicana Field Mon., Jan. 18.  The event was brought to the community by the Pinellas County Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Attorney James Flynn, Your Southside Lawyer.

When Flynn, SCLC Executive Director Jeff Copland and city officials sit down in the same room, something positive is bound to come out if it such as last year’s Fall Festival that drew in more than 5,000 people. And this Monday was no different.

“It took a lot of hard work and determination,” stated Copeland. He along with Toriano Parker, president of the Pinellas County SCLC and Flynn, who invested some of his own money, all worked together with the Mayor Rick Kriseman, Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, Police Chief Anthony Holloway and city councilmembers to make the event a success.

All of this coming together began as a result of a game of golf at the beginning of the year.

“The Mayor and I were playing golf, and I shared what we wanted to do because Martin Luther King was all about family,” said Copland. So Toriano and I started working on the vision and here we are today.”

Of course, having a dependable business partner like Flynn as a friend could only heighten the chances of success. According to Copeland, Flynn paid the entire tab of bringing the headline performer Da Brat, a female rap icon, here to perform.

In less than a month, all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place, and with securing 84 vendors, carnival rides and free clothing giveaways, it was no easy feat.

A huge draw to the event was the car show. Revved up sports cars with monster music systems, gold-plated carburetors, dual exhaust pipes, 24 inch wheels and huge V8 engines could be seen sparkling in the noon day sun.

Altogether, the Family Fun Day extravaganza cost between $45,000 and $50,000, according to Copeland. However, that price tag could not be measured in dollars and cents but in smiles, exhilarating screams of children on the fun slide and the stream of humanity from all walks of life enjoying an iconic multi-million dollar rap artist throw down the funk.

Da Brat in the Burg

Shawntae Harris—also known as Da Brat—invited audience members on stage to perform with her.

“Does anybody out there think they can sing,” asked Da Brat. A sudden dead silence was followed by a tiny voice.

“I can,” said seven-year-old McKenzie.

After she was lifted on stage, DaBrat squatted to McKenzie’s level and said, “Well, what are you going to sing for us?”

Without much hesitation McKenzie responded, “This Girl Is On Fire.”

The crowd quieted down, and as soon as McKenzie hit the first note of the hook, it was a done deal. This seven-year-old future heartbreaker was given the chance to share the stage with a rap legend—and nailed the opportunity.

No amount of money spent on this event could be enough to pay for that treasured moment.

“That’s what it’s about,” said Copeland. “Opening up to the community and giving it a chance!”

Next year, Copeland said, they will have rollercoasters and bumper cars.

Additional sponsors included the Hilton Hotel, 95.7 The Beat, AVA and The Weekly Challenger.

Annual Awards Banquet

Instead of being home preparing for the MLK Family Fun Fest, Parker and Copeland along with the rest of the Pinellas County SCLC were hosting the Freedom, Justice, Equality Awards Banquet Sun., Jan 17 at the St. Petersburg Museum of History in downtown St. Pete.

As more than 200 people enjoyed a delicious meal catered by Ameenah’s Garden, spoken-word artist and keynote speaker Marques Clark spoke on Dr. Martin Luther King’s nightmare, which was the continued oppression of African Americans and war being waged years after his “I have a dream” speech.

Dr. King gave the “Christmas Sermon on Peace on Christmas” Eve in 1967 at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he served as co-pastor. Forty-nine years after his sermon, American finds itself in the same situation.

“I watched that dream turn into a nightmare as I moved through the ghettos of the nation and saw my black brothers and sisters perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity, and saw the nation doing nothing to grapple with the Negroes’ problem of poverty. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched my black brothers and sisters in the midst of anger and understandable outrage, in the midst of their hurt, in the midst of their disappointment, turn to misguided riots to try to solve that problem,” preached Dr. King.

“We are living Martin’s nightmare,” stated Clark, who said we need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves “what are we made up of?”

“One of greatest dangers man faces is not the danger he faces on the outside, but the truths he wrestles with on the inside,” said Clark.

He said that in the face of evil and injustice to all people, black, white, yellow brown, red or indifferent, those who sit idly by are no better than the priest who saw the injured man on the road to Jericho and did nothing.

He asked what we are doing, not just on the streets of St. Pete and Tampa, but on streets all over the world.

“Not to decide is to decide,” he continued, saying that turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to young black men being mauled down in the streets and when citizens of this community cannot stand in solidarity with every ethnic and gender background, “then you’ve made a decision.”

Clark’s call to action roused the room.

Awards presentation

2016 Humanitarian Award — City Councilmember Charlie Gerdes

Leader in Education Award — Denise Ford

Community Service Award — Theresa Jones

Drum Major for Justice — Judge Patrice Moore

2016 Leadership  Award— Mike Jefferis

2016 Role Model Award — Terry Lipsey Scott

The SCLC also honored Frank Mora, Kevin Edwards, Clifford Singh and Steve Alliman for their service to the country.

To reach Allen Buchanan, email

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