The Kingsville community gathered on multiple occasions this past week to take part in the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in order to honor the life and legacy of the civil rights activist and the ideals he stood for.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is typically observed on the third Monday of January, with communities across the country holding annual marches and other special events to commemorate the day.

On Monday morning, the MLK Day Commemorative March took place in Downtown Kingsville and featured dozens of participants including law enforcement, fire fighters, emergency personnel and the H.M. King High School marching band and JROTC Cadets.

The march started from the Kleberg County Courthouse and concluded at St. Paul A.M.E. Church located at 531 W. Warren Ave.

“We’re marching because Martin Luther King represented peace and we want peace in our community,” Rev. Idotha Battle of St. Paul’s A.M.E. Church said. “We feel that if we work hand-in-hand, peace will be obtained.”

Kingsville resident Lisa Casillas-Martinez said she was glad to be out at the parade, not only to support her son marching in the HMK band, but because of what MLK Day represents.

“It’s a privilege to come out here and watch my kid participate in this event,” Casillas-Martinez said. “I’m happy to come here every year, and the community doing this shows the commitment to what Martin Luther King stood for and that this day is important. It’s important to never forget the sacrifice that one has to go through for their rights.”

The Grand Marshall of the parade was Joel Gant, a long-time Kingsville native and local business owner.

Gant said after the march he was “very humbled” to receive the honor for the parade on such a significant occasion.

“My mom and my dad, I know they’re looking down and I hope I made them proud,” Gant said. “I hope they’re seeing that I am always trying to do the right thing especially in the name of God.”

Gant has been a resident in Kingsville since March of 1980 and has worked at the King Barber Shop for nearly 40 years.

He has served as a Boy Scouts of America Scoutmaster for 20 years in Kingsville for Troop #144 and is an active member of King Star Baptist Church as a Deacon.

At the conclusion of the march, participants entered St. Paul A.M.E. Church for a special service, dedicated to the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and to speak about the importance of peace in the community.

Lydia Pettis led the ceremony, with a number of community members speaking at the event, including Rev. John Smith of Church 180, Rev. James Gaddis of King Star Baptist Church, Senior Pastor Jack Willoughby of First Baptist Church, Epiphany Episcopal Church Rev. Jan Dantone and Kingsville Chief of Police Ricardo Torres.

NAS-Kingsville Chaplain Nick Alander spoke the litany of Martin Luther King Jr., alongside Rev. James Gaddis. The Litany was an retelling of Martin Luther King’s life, his values and ended with an excerpt from his famous “I have a Dream,” speech. 

Harvey Elementary School Principal Ode Moreno introduced the guest speaker of the afternoon, Rev. Betty Gaddis from King Star Baptist Church.

Gaddis walked up to the podium to speak about “Peace in the presence of Justice,” the theme for the afternoon festivities.

“I wonder what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would say to us, if he could see us now,” Gaddis said. “I wonder what all of the ones who walked with him, spoke with him, dreamed with him, cried with him, and all those who ultimately died with him, would say to us now.”

Gaddis asked attendees if they have done enough to bring the peace to one another, as Martin Luther King would ask of all people in the past, and even today.

She spoke about the protests, the sacrifices and the amount of strength people like Martin Luther King Jr. needed to be willing to die, go to jail or be hurt in order to help others achieve the peace in their lives.

“They joined together, they loved one another, and that is the key for us today,” Gaddis said. “But we can’t just show up today, or show up here, it needs to be out there in the world. If you see something that’s wrong, if it effects you, that means you need to be involved in it. It takes just one devoted person to make it better.”

Following Gaddis, the MLK committee presented the MLK Community Service award to Kevin “Iron Man” Wickham, who has been a Kingsville youth football coach since 1996, and is responsible for seven area championships and coaching 35 athletes to college scholarships.

The service concluded with attendees joining hands in prayer before departing.

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