MLK Memorial Service

BY JULIA RUDGERS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — The St. Petersburg Interfaith Association held their second Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Service Sun., Jan 18. Maximo Presbyterian Church played host to this year’s service honoring his life and contributions to society.

Introductions were provided by Rev. Bobby Musengwa, pastor of Maximo Presbyterian Church, and Pinellas County School Board member Rene Flowers was the Mistress of Ceremonies.

The tone of the ceremony was markedly influenced by a famous Dr. King quote: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…”

Many denominations of faith were represented such as various branches of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. The overreaching feeling was one of promoting a peaceful, loving, inclusive community that is able to rise above senseless hatred and injustice and meet in peace, a philosophy that Dr. King espoused.

One especially moving portion of the memorial was devoted to the Adhan (announcement), the call to prayer made before every congregational prayer service in the Muslim tradition. The Adhan is also used to call people to assemble to worship the creator.

Guest speaker Angela Rouson, president of the St. Petersburg National Council for Negro Women (NCNW) spoke about turning conversation into action and finding ways to honor Dr. King by pledging to make a difference for others and strengthen the community. Her focus was on how to promote social impact, which she insisted would be advanced through learning and service throughout the community.

Rouson encourages all to follow their passion and make a difference in the community by being the change they want to see. Both she and her husband, State Representative Darryl Rouson, are committed to providing safe and quality housing for people in need and support for families, as well as opportunities for youth to succeed and programs for recovering addicts.

“Don’t sleep through the revolution,” Rouson declared, referencing the story of Rip Van Winkle, a fictional character who slept through the American Revolution. “You fail to achieve new attitudes and outlooks that new times demand when you “sleep; continue to be responsive to what is going on in the world.”

Keynote speaker Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin told the standing room only crowd that she is a member of a very large family that extends several generations back in the St. Petersburg community. She said she was a mother, a wife, an aunt, but “not a politician.”

When Tomalin was offered the job as deputy mayor, she had her reservations but, “I had no choice and no answer but to accept…Dr. King called each of us to service [and] we must find ways to answer with a resounding yes! It may rarely be easy, rarely be automatic, but it will always be right. It is who we are.”

Since her time in office working with Mayor Rick Kriseman, the City of St. Petersburg has grown leaps and bounds; however, there is still much work to do.  She said an air of desperation and despair still hangs in poorer sections of the community, particularly on 22nd Street South and surrounding neighborhoods. Frustrated young men search for their futures, she stated, and mothers worry about how to feed their children, who learn to run before they learn to read.

“Every corner of our community has need,” Tomalin said. “Poverty is only one limitation. Spiritual corners of our community have need; bigotry and hatred, fear and discrimination, still are struggles. Although progress is clearly undeniable, ageism, xenophobia, sexism and homophobia [are still issues that we face].”

“We are a city that says yes, that lives yes. When called, we answer every time. It is not always easy, but it is always right. It is who we are,” she declared.

As long as the sun shines on St. Petersburg, let us hope that we all take active steps to “live yes” and answer Dr. King’s call to service.

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