The sounds of Black Power 96.3 coursed throughout the room early Monday morning as a group of volunteers sat in the studio awaiting assignments from Themba, the Station Manager and Outreach Director. The day had come where we would find out if the city of St. Pete and the police department would stand by their word in compliance with our demands and allow the citizens of the black community to celebrate MLK Day on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. St. S. as they have for decades, and you could feel the anticipation in the air.
As many of you know, in 2018, the police barricaded access into and from the black community on MLK St. and prevented vendors from conducting business, all as part of their plan to gentrify the neighborhood and take a vital day of economic development from our people.
Black Power 96.3, St. Petersburg International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement (InPDUM), and Uhuru Solidarity Movement (USM) organized a multi-prong approach to push back against the city and police department in order to return the economic opportunities to the community and allow the MLK Day to be celebrated by the people. Black Power 96.3 was on the ground and in the community with flyers and posters, spreading the word that MLK would be held in our community.
Volunteers began setting up around 10:00 a.m. and there was already a buzz of excitement in the atmosphere. Vendors were putting up their tables and tents up and down the street, pedestrians were walking by, and people blew their car horns, putting their fist in the air, as they drove past the TyRon Lewis Community Gym. By 11:30 a.m., you could hear music playing from different areas of the MLK corridor, including that of Black Power 96.3 and our own DJ Eddie.
A team of volunteers went to the city’s MLK Day Dream Big parade to pass out flyers, encouraging attendees to #DroptheTrop and to come join us at the Real MLK Day celebration in the community. A man with his two preteen sons asked, “Will the folks let us go there this year?” We were proud to respond, “Yes, we will be out there, and we will celebrate on MLK St. how we want to celebrate.”
Vendors, who had to shell out $200 plus to the city, were setting up shop at Tropicana Field, but the majority of attendees we spoke with were excited at the prospect of being able to return to MLK St. to celebrate. Of course, there were some people who didn’t understand why it was a big deal and didn’t feel safe celebrating in the community. You can’t win everyone over, I suppose.
The parade was scheduled to end at 1:00 p.m., but by noon, there was a distinct celebratory atmosphere on MLK St. Candy-painted cars with booming systems slowly drove down the street, beautiful queens walked by in decked out outfits and new hairstyles, young brothers dressed in their flyest gear strode past, children were wide-eyed as they took in the sights, the smells of meat being smoked, and the sights of the vendors’ wares.
Black Power 96.3 hosted its “Free Da Mic” event, which provided a platform for local artists to showcase their talent and to sell their music. One of the highlights for me was when a few squad cars, and golf carts, posted up near the Black Power 96.3 area and N.W.A.’s “Fuck the Police” came on over the speakers and the RBG flag waved in the air.
We want to thank the community, our volunteers, and our allies, for making the event a success and for bringing MLK Day back to the community. Word has it that although approximately 40k people attended the city-sponsored MLK Day Dream Big Parade, only about 500 people stayed at the Tropicana Field. We estimate at least 4,000 people returned to their roots and celebrated in the black community. It was a victory for the #TakeBackMLKDay Uhuru Movement, but it doesn’t end here. We are gearing up to make plans for MLK Day 2020 so stay tuned!