As the 8 a.m. fog settled in Ocala’s downtown square on Monday Jan. 16, marchers lined Broadway St. awaiting the start of this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Parade. The mile-long march from downtown Ocala to the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Complex has been an annual event here in Ocala for about 32 years.

Narvella Haynes, the vendors’ coordinator for the MLK Committee of Ocala, conveyed how the participation of the community in the parade and “Day in the Park” is always something that is great to see, and is something that has grown, and hopefully will continue to grow in years to come.

Among the hundreds of marchers was the College of Central Florida’s section that was composed of around 50 students, staff, and faculty members who showed up to endure the mile march to the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Complex. Lois Brauckmuller, the director of Marketing and Public Relations at CF discussed how athletics, especially both the women’s and men’s basketball teams, has always had strong representation within the CF’s section of the march down Silver Springs Boulevard.

Despite it being nearly 9 a.m., the group started the march with high energy, the basketball team waved to and hyped up any spectators who the group happened to pass with their boisterous team chants. You could tell that these young men and women were truly excited and ready to take on the day’s celebration, even as the march came to a close that consistent energy and excitement shined through.

As the parade made its way to the Martin Luther King Jr. Complex, Dr. Henningsen, the president of the College of Central Florida, met the marchers at the complex and expressed why he believes the college’s participation in the annual celebration and march is so important. “One of the hallmarks of Dr. King’s vision is education, and we’re about educating the citizenry to make a better community, and so anytime we can talk about the history and what he stood for and to carry that message forward, I think that’s really important for us.”

After the march ended, the festivities at the MLK Complex’s “Day in the Park” kicked off. “There are 33 both profit and non-profit vendors included in the celebration,” Haynes said.

Haynes further discussed the community’s participation in the event. There sat a stage setup with bleachers arched around it on the right end of the field, the seats packed with people eager to hear the speakers and enthralled with the few performances that took place. Booths lined the perimeter of the field, some for food, some advertising their business’, and then schools and colleges, like CF, have their own booths set up as well.

Lois Brauckmuller was working at CF’s booth alongside Jameka Allen, a marketing and public relations staff assistant for CF. They handed out information to young students, as well as parents, about the opportunities CF offers as far as being the communities first choice for higher education.

“Having this booth at the Day in the Park event really gives the College of Central Florida great visibility to share the programs we offer to the community and to the people who may not know that there are higher education opportunities much closer to home than they think,” Brauckmuller said.

Seeing the community come together for such an event was truly an amazing and inspiring thing to witness. Whether it was watching groups of people from different backgrounds come together for prayer or seeing the excitement on – both younger and older – attendees faces when groups came before them to perform dances, there was no way to deny that the event really inspired unity and created a sense of solidarity in the community this Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Story by: Delaney VanNest