Local leaders keeping Doctor Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy alive in SWFL

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On Martin Luther King Day, the country honors the life and legacy of Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. WINK News spoke with local leaders who are dedicated to keeping his legacy alive.

Reginald Billups is a music teacher, but he’s always been a civil rights activist since he was a child in Birmingham, Alabama, to now as an adult in Fort Myers.

Reginald Billups. (Credit: WINK News)

In the past, Billups walked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., fighting for justice.

“You can’t idly stand by and watch injustice. And just say, ‘well, doesn’t concern me.’ I think we all are activists. If we aren’t, we should be,” said Billups.

The third Monday in January, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, has a deeper meaning for Billups. “To see where we were then and to know that, you know, some 50-plus years later, the country has moved to a point where we acknowledge the contributions of a really great man, a really great man. God put him here for a purpose.”

Fort Myers City Council member, Teresa Watkins-Brown, recognizes that purpose as well.

Teresa Watkins-Brown. (Credit: WINK News)

“To stand up like he did so that people like myself would have the equality that we’re enjoying today, it really means a lot that we continue to keep the dream alive, his dream alive, for what he gave his life for,” Watkins-Brown said.

Watkins-Brown and Billups don’t want the meaning behind the holiday to get lost in the day off.

“I don’t think some of us ever knew what it was for, you know, it’s like, ‘oh, we get MLK Day off. You know, no school, no work. I can do that. I’m gonna go fishing,'” said Billups. “I just think we need to do a better job of getting people to understand that you want to take some time to reflect on the man and the movement because it’s so important that we not forget where we’ve come from.”

Watkins-Brown is determined to make sure we don’t. “We can’t do it all on just one day, we have to continue to keep the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King all throughout the year. So one day may be to some just a day off to relax; I don’t have to go into work. But the thought of what he went through for me to get to where I am today really means a lot. And I have to honor him on that day.”

The Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative march begins at 10 a.m. on Monday at the Dunbar Jupiter Hammon Library and ends at Centennial Park with a legacy celebration and a prayer under the Caloosahatchee Bridge.

You can find a map of the route below. The roads for the march were closed at 9:45 and are expected to be reopened at 11:15 a.m.

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