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Spirit of his dream celebrated

Speakers at a Copeland Park observance revive Dr. King's ideals.

By ALEX LEARY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 22, 2002

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CRYSTAL RIVER -- Pausing for just a moment, Al Hopkins jokingly apologized for the sermon. "But I feel my roots here," he said, rousing the crowd from the hard metal chairs.

The assistant pastor at Fountain of Life Restoration Ministries came to Copeland Park on Monday to deliver a short speech. But the heft and color of his voice indicated he was a man with a mission. And the crowd was all for it.

"You have to go from the mentality of thinking you are always down and that you are never going to come up to the mentality that "I'm on top and I'm getting ready to go farther than I've ever been before,' " Hopkins said.

[Times photo: Steve Hasel]
Soloist Samantha Churchwell delivers a rendition of the old Negro spiritual Steal Away during Monday’s observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Copeland Park in Crystal River, Citrus County.
Over his left shoulder hung a framed picture of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968 at age 39.

Hopkins said King had parted the waters and now it was time for his people to cross into Canaan, the biblical Promised Land.

"It doesn't make a difference if you were born inside of the ghetto, it doesn't make a difference if you were born inside an old shack," Hopkins bellowed as Eric Powell, 25, played a melody on a keyboard.

"I came to tell you that when your spirit is free, ain't no devil in hell can stop you."

Hundreds of people turned out for the sixth annual celebration of the birth of King, who would have turned 73 on Jan. 15.

King's dream was evident in the children playing in the grass, said Eddie Harris, 48, who moved to Crystal River six months ago and was helping pass out programs on Monday.

"I see it happening," he said, pointing to a white girl and black boy. "We have overcome. This goes on all the time, not just today."

Addie Mitchell, an elderly woman in a knit cap, drove from Bradenton to visit friends. She prays the younger generations will not lose sight of King's message.

"We've come a long way," she said with a smile. "It might not be fully realized, but we've come a long way."

Hopkins did not glaze over the problems that face the community. He said the churches in Crystal River are still segregated, that there is little attention paid to drug problems or teenage pregnancy.

City Manager Phil Lilly, one of several city officials who attended the two-hour event, capped with a picnic, challenged the crowd "to make this a thriving community where there is economic and cultural opportunity for everyone with full community involvement."

The most sustained applause was reserved for Frederick Copeland, a Crystal River native who marched with King in Washington, D.C., in 1963.

"I can't march in my own town because nobody will march with me," Copeland, now 84, recalled thinking at the time. "I'm going home to change my own town."

Crystal River's Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration usually begins with a freedom walk but it was canceled this year because organizers got a late start and did not raise $90 for a police escort.

"Next year, it will be done," pledged Jaunita Edwards. "I've got a whole year to work on it."

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