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Festival to celebrate legacy of slain civil rights leader

PLANT CITY – Dr. Ken Atwater said he felt flattered and honored when he was tapped as the featured speaker at an annual leadership breakfast held in memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Dr. King was always one of my personal heroes,” said Atwater, president of Hillsborough Community College.

Atwater credits the civil rights movement that opened doors to blacks with his own career as an educator. The 63-year-old grew up during the years King was in his prime. The civil rights leader was assassinated in 1968.

“I saw segregation and I saw integration,” said Atwater, a native of Jackson, Tenn.

Atwater’s speech at 7:30 a.m. Sunday will be one of the highlights of the 30th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Arts Festival, which runs Friday through Monday. Tickets are $30 to the leadership breakfast, which will be held at the John R. Trinkle Center on HCC’s Plant City campus.

The festival was founded by the Improvement League of Plant City, which will hand out annual awards at the breakfast that include: Mary Pearson, Westside Boys & Girls Club supervisor, Sadye Martin Community Service Award; Ethel Hicks, Plant City High School teacher, E.L. Bing Education Award; and CL Townsend, retired pharmacist and community volunteer, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award.

Atwater has held a number of jobs in education, including president of South Mountain Community College in Phoenix. He became HCC president in 2010. He said his parents, who didn’t go to college but insisted on it for their three children, would have been pleased to have known he was chosen as featured speaker at the breakfast.

“My mother and father were proud to be supporters of Dr. King and the work he did,” he said.

The theme of this year’s festival is Faith, Culture, Community and Unity, Improvement League President William Thomas Jr. said. For the first time, the festival will include a day of community service, on Monday, when volunteers will go out and perform home improvement projects for needy homeowners.

The day of service was a good addition to the celebration, Thomas said.

“We always look at how it fits in with the message of Dr. King and he was all about service and helping the community,” he said.

Except for the leadership breakfast and a parade, all events are held in and around the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center, 1601 E. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

The festival highlights also include:

• Carnival midway from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

• A parade at 1 p.m. Saturday featuring Plant City High School football team as the grand marshals. The team reached the 7A-Region 3 championship in the school’s best season in many years. The parade also features marching bands traveling a route from the Wheeler Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard intersection to the recreation center.

• Drum line competition from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday

• Car show, step showdown and other entertainment 5 p.m. Saturday

• Gospel music show, 4 p.m. Sunday (previously the gospel music show was held on Saturday)

The organizers say they added to the festival and changed the schedule for the gospel show as the result of a survey of festival-goers,

The Improvement League is seeking to broaden the appeal of the festival, Thomas added.

“This event is a celebration for all and not just blacks. We want to appeal to everyone regardless of their racial background,” Thomas said.

For a complete schedule go to www.plantcitymlkfestival.com.

If you go

Except where otherwise noted, all events are at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center, 1601 E. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Friday

Opening ceremony, 11:30 a.m.

Talent show, 7 p.m.: $5 admission

Dance, after the 8 p.m. Durant/Plant City High basketball game; admission $5 or $2 with game ticket stub; trophy will be presented to winning team during dance

Saturday

11 a.m. to 9 p.m.: Street festival including carnival midway, arts, crafts and music

1 p.m.: Freedom Parade from historic downtown to recreation center

2:30 to 4:30 p.m.: High school and middle school drum line competition

5 p.m. Entertainment including step show showdown and custom car show

Sunday

Leadership Breakfast, 7:30 a.m., John R. Trinkle Center, Hillsborough Community College’s Plant City campus, 1206 N. Park Road, cost $30 per person

11 a.m. to 9 p.m.: Carnival midway open

4 p.m.: Gospel music fest

Monday

8 a.m. to noon: Community service projects, tours of historic Bing Rooming House, 205 Allen St.

Information: Contact the Improvement League of Plant City at (813) 757-6760 or plantcitymlk@tampabay.rr.com or go to www.plantcitymlkfestival.com

Twitter: @dnicholsonTBO

dnicholson@tampatrib.com

(813) 394-5103

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