In life, the Gospel Teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr. ineluctably informed his political perspective and stances. Nearly half a century since his passing, Dr. King is a canonical figure in American politics. This is true also in Jacksonville, where the annual MLK parade is one of the biggest events for politicos to show out and be seen.
This was evident in 2015, when politicos and candidates up and down the ticket marched, ahead of Jacksonville’s local elections. Here in 2016, robust turnout could be seen from elected officials from City Council up to the Governor, and quite a few candidates as well.
And make no mistake: their involvement was deeply political, and their comments in conversations with FloridaPolitics.com reflected that. While some waxed much more eloquent on the legacy of Dr. King than others, Jacksonville’s yearly MLK parade is a reminder of Dr. King’s legacy, while for many pols and elected officials, it is also a reminder of how far we have to go as a culture to embody the values in his speeches and public statements.
On hand, of course: Governor Rick Scott and Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera.
Governor Scott tells FloridaPolitics.com that he’s walked the MLK parade “three or four times,” with a couple of more appearances in the local Veterans Day parade. Always, he said, there’s a “great group of people.” And Jacksonville? “A nice city to come to.”
On a nippy morning, Governor Scott noted that while it “could be warmer,” he also participated in the Three Kings Parade in Miami last weekend … where it was warm, but rainy.
CLC likewise was enthusiastic.
“Jacksonville is a great city, with a lot going on, and it’s great to be back.”
Of Dr. King, the Lieutenant Governor said that MLK was a “unique individual in our history” whose work for equality stood out to him.
Equality and positivity were the buzzwords for many of the politicians on hand, as was the case with Councilman Reggie Gaffney, marching in his second parade in two years: the first as a candidate; Monday’s as the District 7 Councilman.
“Dr. King’s dream lives,” said Gaffney, adding that “as a country, as a city, we have a long way to go.”
Gaffney believes that Jacksonville’s mayor, Lenny Curry, is helping in that regard, to “make strides, doing whatever it takes to make the city a better place for people of color.”
Also on hand, Councilwoman Joyce Morgan, the only Council member to have covered the event as media, to have participated as a candidate, and in 2016, as a public official.
As well, Councilman Garrett Dennis was on hand, who has made a name for himself very quickly as the scandalous conditions at Eureka Garden have become news well outside his district.
Dennis, along with Representatives Reggie Fullwood and Mia Jones, hosted a debate watch party as part of the Vote It Loud coalition, which is interested in how the Democratic candidates are reaching out to minority voters.
Vote It Loud, said Dennis, was intended to “engage minority communities” and the pols “went out there to support and give encouragement.”
When asked about whether the crowd leaned toward Clinton or Felt The Bern, Dennis said the crowd was about a 50/50 split.
“It’s still early,” Dennis said, and the candidates “stuck to their script.”
For Dennis and others, the day isn’t just about a parade. After the event, the Councilman would be headed to a day of service for HabiJax in New Town.
Ron Davis, the father of Jordan Davis (slain at a gas station by Michael Dunn earlier this decade, in a case that brought global publicity to Jacksonville), was on hand also, and his comments were elegiac.
“Dr. King would have wanted his dream to go further than it has,” said Davis, who spoke of King’s vision of being one where “love conquers hate.”
Instead, Davis said, “mass incarceration” and other racial inequities in the justice system persist.
Leslie Jean-Bart, running in HD 14 with social justice central to her message, was likewise on point.
“My favorite quote from Dr. King,” Jean-Bart said, “was ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that’.”
Jean-Bart said that the “dream has not been realized,” and part of that was a complacency that crept up when it came to civil rights in her generation.
“By the time my generation came, we thought the civil rights movement had been taken care of,” Jean-Bart, 44 years old, said.
However, “racial disparities in the justice system” have become central to awareness of a “stark reality in the last five years,” one underscored by the Black Lives Matter and New Jim Crow movement.
For Jean-Bart and so many other politicians motivated to public service by such concerns, these issues are as real as they get. And what is clear is that Dr. King’s legacy transcends the newsreels and the famous quotes that so often seem to stop at the March on Washington. Dr. King’s message of justice that transcends the artificial demarcations of race, true justice that applies to all, clearly resonated with the politicians on hand.
The Jacksonville MLK parade, in that sense, is more than a march for local and state politicos.
It is an ongoing dialogue, borne of necessity.