The 33rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Arts Festival kicks off this weekend. From Jan. 11 until Jan. 26, Plant City will be full of educational and cultural events for the entire family.
One of Plant City’s most beloved events, the 33rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Arts Festival, is right around the corner.
The festival spans 16 days starting on Jan. 11 and aims to unite the community with events that provide cultural and educational experiences for all who attend. The ever evolving festival is chock-full of approximately 10 events and is sure to have something everyone will enjoy.
“Our theme is Unity Starts Here; The Work Continues,” William Thomas Jr., president of the Improvement League of Plant City, said. “Looking at the thought of this, some of the younger members of our group came up with this theme, we thought we’d have more of a collaboration this year as far as doing the events and the festival. We are working with a lot of other group and entities to carry on the message Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. tried to parley as far as equality for all.”
This year’s festival features new events and venues, many of which are focused on education and having an impact on the local community. The first event of the festival is a book signing from local author James McDaniel at the Bing Rooming House Museum, 205 Allen St., on Jan. 12. McDaniel has long been a treasured member of society and has been instrumental in shaping Plant City into the town it is today.
His book, “Living a Virtuous Life,” shares his unique perspective of growing up in Plant City as an African-American and the path his life has taken through a career at major institutions like NASA and as the community development director for the City of Plant City.
The same day the Improvement League of Plant City has partnered with a variety of local groups to host the IMPACT Conference at Greater New Hope Anointed Ministries, 2104 Mud Lake Road. The conference will address the growing drug problems in Plant City and discuss how the community can get ahead and nip the issue in the bud.
The official opening ceremony traditionally has been held at the MLK Recreation Center, however, since its closing a few years ago the event has found a new home across the street at Marshall Middle School. With the principal’s blessing, Thomas said the plan is to keep the ceremony at the campus, which just so happens to be steeped in history itself, for years to come.
The main question on everyone’s lips this year is if the demolition of the MLK Recreation Center will in any way alter the festivities held each year on its property. Thomas assures nothing is set to change barring a minor readjustment of the layout of the event.
During the early morning on Saturday, Jan. 19 vendors will slowly make their way to the baseball fields at the MLK Sports Complex directly behind the now-demolished recreation center. As they set up community members will grab chairs and — on the handful of instances it’s a chilly day — blankets and camp out for the parade.
It may be one of Plant City’s shortest parades, but it is definitely one of its most unique. The parade kicks off around 1 p.m. and Thomas recommends people arrive no later than 12:15 p.m. to get a good spot.
Crowd favorites tend to include the parking lots by the Plant City Photo Archives & History Center, behind Krazy Kup Coffee House and to the right of the train depot as the parade weaves its way down East Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Many of the families living in the area camp out in their front yards to watch the event. The Bing Rooming House Museum will also be open for the event and attendees are welcome to watch the parade there.
By 2:30 p.m. the parade is finished and a local drum lines will be hitting the performance area at the baseball fields as they show off their talent. For the rest of the day there will be live bands and unique performances as well as plenty of entertainment for children. It’s a day to sit back, relax and enjoy soulful music and jovial camaraderie.
Throughout the party attendees will be purchasing one-of-a-kind goods from local vendors and fighting for a spot in line for some of the best food ever featured at a Plant City festival. Pro-tip: the vendors are all set up by 10:30 so come before the parade to get line-free servings of the mouth-watering cuisine and then head back to your spot on the parade route.
One of the festival’s signature events is the next morning at 7:30 a.m. Folks from all over the city come to participate in the MLK Leadership Breakfast at the Trinkle Center. Tickets are on sale until Jan. 16 and are $35. Many awards and scholarships will be given out and keynote speaker Liesta Sykes will discuss the annual theme and share her life experiences.
Arguably the fastest growing enterprise from the festival is the annual MLK Day of Community Service. Participants come from across the county and volunteer their morning helping make the community a better place. There are four home projects being tackled this year and the group is putting together care packages for a National Guard unit. Part of the volunteers will also be working on the Bealsville food stand of local folk artist Ruby C. Williams.
Breakfast and lunch is included in the service day and last minute volunteers are welcome to come out and sign up that morning. They are still looking for donations for flowers, mulch and improvement supplies, whether that be the actual items or a monetary donation they can use to go purchase the needed items.
“Dr. King, his purpose, his legacy was equality for all,” Thomas said. “Why is that so important to us as an organization? As individuals? Plant City is moving forward, this is my home, our home. As we move forward we need to make sure that as people come through Plant City we adhere to the live here, work here, play here mindset. We need to make sure that definition of what Plant City is, is true for anyone who wants to call this home.”
Each year the festival brings the community together, proving similarities far surpass any differences. It’s a cherished event in town and one that Thomas said will only continue to grow.
“I think we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about diversity, we need to have those discussions and understand the majority of us as a people in Plant City are open, are about the right things,” Thomas said. “Unfortunately, even in today’s society there are a few that are not. It’s our goal to make sure those voices are minimal… It’s easy to say the door is always open. What matters is once I come in, do I feel welcome? Is the culture, environment conducive inside.”
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
Jan. 11-Jan. 26
Self-Guided Selfie Scavenger Hunt of Plant City locations related to
important African American history
Saturday. Jan. 12
Book signing by author James
McDaniel 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Bing House Museum
IMPACT Conference 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Greater New Hope Anointed Ministries
Friday, Jan. 18
Opening Ceremony 11:30 a.m. to
1 p.m. at Marshall Middle School
Rhythm Rhyme Spoken word 8 p.m. at Plant City Cornerstore
Parade, Vendors, Drumline Battle and Concerts 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at MLK Sports Complex
Sunday, Jan. 20
MLK Leadership Breakfast 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at Trinkle Center.
MLK Gospel Fest 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at St. Mary’s Community Church on Laura Street
Monday, Jan. 21
MLK Day of Community Service 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Bing House Museum
Saturday, Jan. 26
MLK Boardwalk To A Better Health Fair 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Mt. Olive