The 32nd annual MLK Festival is back and includes new and expanded events throughout the month of January.
The Improvement League of Plant City plans to continue to pour into the community during its 32nd annual MLK Festival.
The event is centered around the theme “Unity — Tearing Down the Walls that Divide” and will include a portrait dedication, festival, parade, keynote breakfast and more. William Thomas Jr., president of the Improvement League, said the event aims to pay tribute to the diversity and culture found in Plant City.
“Florida has such a diverse population, it’s such a diverse state full of diverse backgrounds that come here,” Thomas said. “It’s very important for the city to have that feel that it’s a place where everyone can come and raise a family. Having a cultural festival of this sort allows the city to capitalize on that. They can say yes we are a diverse town and still preserve that small-town feel.”
For first-timers, Thomas recommends attendees come out to the parade from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13. The marshals will be Dan Raulerson, former State Representative and CPA, and Ricardo Coronado, a pastor and community activist. Recommended viewing is at the start of the historic downtown near the Wells Fargo Bank and the Plant City Photo Archives.
The parade will end at the MLK Sports Complex and bleed into the ongoing MLK Village Street
Festival, which runs from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The festival will have an abundance of free entertainment including a drumline competition, singers, performers and more. There will also be food and merchant vendors on site.
“About 6,000 people came out last year,” Thomas said. “It will be a fun-filled day, family friendly, very diverse. What’s unique about this festival is all of it is free for the most part. It’s free parking, there’s no admission fee… That’s what we’re happy about, of all of our successes, is keeping it in the community, keeping it in that area and the city’s been committed to that.”
Thomas said the Improvement League has always been dedicated toward unifying the community and the festival is their largest event of the year.
However, the group partnered with the Plant City Photo Archives & History Center this year to offer an event unlike any seen before.
Marshall Middle School was named after Edward Jackson Marshall. For years, people had stopped by the Bing House Museum and inquired as to why the school had no image of its namesake. Finally, they inquired with the Photo Archives and were able to find a small photo that showed a tiny, blurry picture of Marshall. Using their magic, the Archives was able to “work wonders” and digitally reproduce a large portrait that will be presented to the principal at the middle school from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 12.
“The Archives really blew us away,” Thomas said. “I cannot give them enough praise for what they did. They took that tiny photo and were able to recreate it into a large image. The school can hang it in the hallway where students can actually see who Edward Jackson Marshall was and know why the school was named after him. It can spark that conversation on all the things he contributed to the city.”
The group will also take part in the annual MLK Day of Service on Monday, Jan. 15, and Saturday, Jan. 20, where more than 200 members of the community will unite to take on various service projects throughout Plant City. Fred’s Market is providing a free breakfast for the volunteers and lunch will be sponsored by Sonny’s BBQ.
Another highlight of this year’s festival is the MLK Leadership Breakfast, Keynote Address and Community Champion Awards at the Trinkle Center. Michael Green, the president of Ground Guys LLC and an executive member of Dwyer Group, will deliver a keynote address featured around this year’s theme. Green will discuss what it means to have a diverse, local business market and how it benefits the city and community. The breakfast will also recognize the Community Champion Award recipients.
Thomas said this year’s theme will highlight the fact that everyone is working together to attempt to “tear down those perceptions” and focus on making the city a better place. Plant City is currently undergoing a growth and a push to develop a vibrant downtown. With that comes a need for diversity for a diverse market to attract top employees and a top quality workforce, he said.
“It’s grown a lot and it’s grown a lot in diversity, too,” Thomas said. “A conversation we want to have is it’s not just an event for African Americans. There’s drumlines, the school engagements, the band engagements, the entertainment is diverse. Food and music always bring folks together to just have a good time.”