SWFL celebrations honor legacy of MLK

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — Progress has been made, but much work remains.

That was the message among several in attendance Monday at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Punta Gorda. Dozens here joined crowds across the country to remember the slain civil rights leader and celebrate his legacy.

“This is a day of remembrance that we as a country have come a long way, but also have to just continue to maintain the gains we’ve gotten as a society,” Punta Gorda City Council member John Cummings said.

This year’s festivities take place in the shadow of a recent dispute between President-elect Donald Trump and Congressman John Lewis, a prominent civil rights figure. Trump will soon take over the Oval Office from Barack Obama, the first black president.

Betty Gissendanner, vice chair of the Charlotte County Democratic Party, had pointed criticism for Trump.

“He is sending a message of disregard and disrespect,” she said, “and that is very disappointing for me as someone who grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, when race relations were so bad.”

But a war of words means little without action toward a positive change, Cummings believes.

“When obstacles exist, the obstacles themselves present an opportunity to change them,” he said.

Government isn’t the only arena for improving race relations, Gissendanner said.

“You cannot legislate out hate. You cannot legislate in love,” she said. “But you sure can model it, and eventually it becomes a way of life.”

Holiday celebrations took place across Southwest Florida. WINK News reporter John Trierweiler was live from festivities in Fort Myers:

In Naples, hundreds gathered at Cambier Park, including representatives from several advocacy organizations planning to see if they can pool their resources for common causes.

“We can come together with different races, religions, political backgrounds, political views and support the United States and the vision that Dr. King held for our country,” said Bill Canavan, an organizer with Collier Freedom, a social justice group.

That organization, along with the Southwest Florida Resistance Coalition, the NAACP of Collier County, and Showing Up for Racial Justice intend to meet next Monday to band together for issues ranging from race relations to women’s rights to health care.

“In order to win, we have to have the winning combination of an intersectional approach and an anti-racist platform across all social justice groups,” said Ellen Hemrick of Showing Up for Racial Justice.

The meeting takes place at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 23 at 115 Plantation Circle in Naples. WINK News reporter Taylor Bisacky has more:

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