Rev. Tommy Curtis explained the motivation behind the upcoming Jan. 20 local Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration with a story.
Last year, as festivities at the Washington High School Gym were winding down, Curtis was approached by a white man from White City.
The man had attended the prior two MLK Day celebrations and wanted to speak to the organizers.
“He said, ‘This is the first time I’ve been colored people and white people gather together in this county. This is something that should not stop,’” Curtis said.
“That’s why we do this. It brings people of all colors in the county together for one day. Maybe that will precipitate two days, then maybe three days and soon maybe we have the mentality every day of working together.”
And, Curtis added, the idea of working together has rarely been more needed and required, given the division in the country, even locally.
When Curtis and his wife, Psalmist Cora McNair Curtis, moved full-time to Port St. Joe, Curtis pushed against the concept of a north side and south side.
He attended Port St. Joe city meetings and listened to debates about what was happening on the south side and what was not happening on north side.
“I thought are we not all Port St. Joe,” Curtis said.
And, having grown-up and lived elsewhere, such as Tampa and Tallahassee, Curtis understood the Gulf County way of life he was observing was in so many ways foreign, to his experience and his outlook.
“I knew it can be done differently, knowing how to talk and discuss things and how to broach (the divide) together,” Curtis said.
MLK Day seemed the appropriate day to start.
They didn’t need a committee, Tommy and Cora went to Ramsey’s and ordered signs and set about to establish a local tradition for MLK Day where one had not existed.
As the signs he designed proclaim, “Freedom is not Free” and they encouraged one and all to join in a parade and the festivities that will follow in the spirit of “peace, harmony and social justice.”
The parade line-up will begin at 9 a.m. ET at City Hall with the parade beginning at 10 a.m. ET.
“We all start at City Hall where we all have to pay our water bills,” Curtis said. “We generally have more white people at that point and pick up more people as we get to the north side of town.
“But last year, the shop owners along Reid Ave., they are in the middle of the work day, and they came out and applauded what we were doing and walked a little with us. It brought tears to my eyes.”
The parade travels down Reid, takes a right on First Street to Dr. David B. Langston Drive, left onto Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. and end at Avenue G.
A motorcade will follow behind those walking.
The festivities move to the Washington High School Gymnasium (there will be shuttles available) at 11 a.m. ET for free food, socializing, youth sacred dancing presentations and a keynote speaker.
That speaker will be Henry Lawrence, a former All-Pro lineman for the Oakland Raiders and two-time Super Bowl winner who has gone on to become a motivational speaker and philanthropist who also operates a youth foundation.
Each activity, Curtis said, is focused on the central themes of Dr. King’s life.
“Dr. King, I think, would be pleased that we are doing something to work together to make the world a better place,” Curtis said.
All community service organizations may establish a presence at the gym, pre-registration required.
Contributions to the event, which is formally sponsored by the non-profit Freedom Exchange Community Development Centers of the Americas Foundation, a non-profit, made be made by mailing a check to the Foundation at P.O. Box 1372 in Port St. Joe.
For more information, contact Tommy Curtis at 545-8646 or Cora Curtis at 890-6563.