Differing visions for MLK Day in St. Petersburg - FOX 13 News

Differing visions for MLK Day in St. Petersburg

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This year's Martin Luther King Day will be even bigger in St. Petersburg than in years past.

All of the events traditionally associated with the holiday will proceed as scheduled, including the ‘Drum Major for Justice' parade, which is one of the nation's largest MLK Day parades.

Nearly all St. Petersburg police officers will be working that event, as well as the far less-organized street party that follows.

However, this year for the first time, the street party will be challenged by an organized MLK Day of Service. More than 50 organizations received micro-grants for a wide variety of community projects.

Stylist Brenda Gilbert got a grant to provide free grooming services to the homeless.

"We got 15 volunteers to help out, and we will all be doing different things," Gilbert said Friday in her salon on 49th Street North.

"We're going to be doing manicures, hair cutting and we're going to be giving them snacks to eat," she said.

Her grant pays for required products, such as shampoo.

A car show scheduled for Sunday will also resume on Monday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., offering activities for the kids and free music.

Heavily-accessorized automobiles traditionally crawl through the throngs of the street party on MLK Street South. This year, most will be congregated, and parked on 34th Street South.

"We're just hoping we will have a positive impact by moving some of that crowd over to a contained location where there will be security," Day of Service coordinator Laurie Suitt said.

"It'll be a safe environment but people can still have a good time," she said.

Day of Service manager Crista Shaw said State Representative Darryl Rouson secured $100,000 in state funding for this year's projects, as well as $100,000 for 2014's MLK Day.

"We're hoping that the state of Florida will take this on and St. Pete will sort of be a catalyst for other projects throughout the state -- this is a very historic year," Shaw said.

The Day of Service has also created some community controversy. Rouson launched his effort with a letter to a local newspaper last January.

"Let's end a tradition that starts beautiful and ends ugly," Rouson wrote.

"We parade and end the day with debauchery, police line King Street to manage the chaos, and residents along King Street lock their doors to avoid the madness," he said.

Parade organizer Sevill Brown III responded with a petition on change.org, asking residents to reject Rouson's Day of Service.

"Reject Rouson's attempt to ingratiate himself into the arms of the status quo power structure by attacking blacks during the post MLK parade activities...to enhance his own status and position among whites in our city," Brown wrote.

Rouson said many churches and schools will participate in both the parade and the Day of Service.

St. Petersburg police will find out Monday whether the attempt to shrink the street party will work.

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