ALACHUA – It has been 56 years since the death of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but the civil rights leader still inspires people today to gather and celebrate his dream and pay homage to his legacy.
On a chilly Monday morning, the City of Alachua held its 19th Annual MLK Celebration at the Cleather Hancock Community Center, with some 200 people attending. Joining in the remembrance celebration were City of Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper, Vice Mayor Dayna Miller and City Commissioners Jennifer Blalock, Shirley Green Brown and Ed Potts. Representing City staff were City Manager Mike DaRoza and Assistant City Manager Rodolfo Valladares.
Referencing King’s famous “I’ve Got a Dream” speech Master of Ceremony Carol Richardson said that King’s message spoke to the social, economic, and political impacts on not just black Americans, but on all generations of all Americans.
Richardson introduced Reverend John Brown who gave a stirring invocation, followed by Alachua City Manager Mike DaRoza who offered the City’s official welcome address.
A powerfully moving rendition of the National Anthem was delivered by a young and talented Brandon Luke.
Richardson remarked that the MLK Celebration event in Alachua was unique in its sponsorship by the City of Alachua, noting that other similar events are typically sponsored by not-for-profit groups or similar type organizations.
The morning program included saxophone performances by University of Florida medical student Frantz Emmanuel, an oral historic background of Dr. King’s journey by Richardson, and performances by Smooth Flava Dance and the Mebane Middle School cheer squad.
The audience responded to the speakers with the appreciative “Amen” and applause. During the dance performance, many were clapping and singing along.
Keynote speaker for the event was Alachua native and College Hall of Fame Inductee Adrian Peterson. Peterson was introduced by his father, Porter Peterson, as Adrian’s mother, Reatha Peterson, looked on from the audience.
Porter Peterson described his son’s journey from the neighborhoods of Alachua to the playing fields of Santa Fe High School, college football stardom and success in the NFL. He also mentioned Adrian’s success in various business endeavors and his current position as Director of Student-Athlete Development at his college alma mater, Georgia Southern University.
Adrian Peterson graduated from Georgia Southern University where he starred on the 1999 and 2000 NCAA I-AA national championship teams and was the 1999 Walter Payton Award winner. After he graduated college, Peterson was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the sixth round. He played for eight years, including the 2006 NFC Championship season and Super Bowl XLI.
Adrian Peterson gave an inspirational presentation to an appreciate audience about determination and commitment and always striving not just to do more, but to do it better. Speaking to the crowd, Peterson said that growing up he knew about Dr. King, his peaceful marches and his enduring impact on everyone.
The 1997 Santa Fe High School graduate and all-star football and basketball player fondly recalled memories of growing up in Alachua, and although he no longer lives here, he still calls it home. And he said he always comports himself well, so that when someone hears him say he is from Alachua, Florida, they will be left with a good impression of his hometown.
Addressing his remarks to the youth in the audience, Peterson shared his story of success that would lead him to football stardom and an NFL career with the Chicago Bears.
Peter said that growing up in a small caring community provided the environment that helped him achieve. While playing rec league sports at the Alachua Recreation Center, Peterson knew from an early age that he wanted to be a professional football player, but he also knew it would take hard work, determination and commitment.
Peterson knew he had to be successful not just on the playing field, but in the classroom as well. As an example, he recounted an experience he had while in school when one Monday some friends said they were skipping school the next day. Peterson looked them in the eye and said, “I guess I’ll be seeing you Wednesday.”
Reading like a who’s who of successful professional athletes, Peterson's growing list of accomplishments speak not only to his renown athletic ability but also to his impactful life after professional ball. Clearly a hometown favorite, at the conclusion of his talk, Peterson received a rousing standing ovation from the crowd.
After a lunch prepared by the A.L. Mebane Alumni Association, scheduled afternoon events included a presentation of the Alachua Youth Advisory Council Essay and Art Contest Winners, a dance performance “Get Up and Dance, Park II” by the Alachua Senior Cha Chas and a musical presentation by 1000 Voices of Florida.
Community sponsors of this year’s MLK event were Bev’s Better Burgers Alachua, Infinite Wellness & Fitness, Lee’s Preschool Center and Visit Gainesville/Alachua County.
Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper said this year’s MLK celebration was a success for everyone. “This event is always a great way for the community to come together and honor Dr. King and his legacy,” said Coerper. “It was especially great this year to see so many young people in attendance and participating.”
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