Images of Martin Luther King Jr. were everywhere — from T-shirts to posters — in black and white, color and sepia tones.
But one special rendition stood out — a penciled drawing of King looking sideways, pensive and almost lifelike — created by a self-taught artist who wanted to share with the community King’s message of freedom and unity, even though he himself remains incarcerated.
The white inmate from the Avon Park Correctional Institute, Malachi Eastridge, who discovered his artistic side while in prison, spent a week round the clock, painstakingly doing the sketch with nothing but pencils, said the prison’s Col. Shirley Johnson.
Johnson was going to carry the sign in front of Avon Park’s annual march Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, one of many celebrations observed in Highlands County and nationwide to recognize the legendary civil rights leader.
Eastridge expressed himself through his art, and the rendering was his way to celebrate King’s legacy and thank the groups that do things for the community, Johnson added.
He is donating the poster.
“It’s deep in his heart to help out,” she said.
* * * * *Martin Luther KingJr. Day, first celebrated in 1986, is a federal holiday honoring King’s life and work. It is celebrated on the third Monday in January to remember his Jan. 15, 1929 birthday.
This year’s observances spanned over four days in Highlands County, from an oratorical contest to marches, parades and commemorative events in Avon Park, Sebring and Lake Placid.
Monday, more than 75 people gathered in Avon Park to march from the RCMA/ Hopewell Child Development Center to Memorial Field, several blocks north, to partake in the city’s first annual MLK festival, which had games, music and food.
Catherine Collins, president of R.A.M.S. Path Finders, a co-ed kids’ group that Collins likened to the Scouts, had set up a booth to sell hot dogs, nachos and fish to raise money for the group.
A child of the ’50s, King and his legacy is a big part of Collins’ life, and she never misses the chance to observe it.
King did not just liberate the blacks from segregation, he brought all the races together to live as ‘brothers and sisters,” she said.
* * * * *Walker Memorial Academystudent Brittney Simmons, 12, presented the colors as part of the R.A.MS. Color Guard, at Monday’s annual MLK prayer breakfast.
To her, King stood for freedom and how “we could all come together. …how each race could come together and unite.”
Like everyone gathered, Alvenia Jones found the day special and symbolic, a day where one man dared to dream a difficult dream, and inspired a journey that changed a society.
“He dreamed that little black children and little white children will be going to school together, and little black children and little white children will be holding hands,” Jones continued.
If King were alive, “from then to now, he would have been really proud,” she added solemnly.
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