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Generations join in his honor

In its fifth year, Tampa's parade to pay tribute to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. draws a larger crowd than it drew in previous years.

photo
[Times photo: John Pendygraft]
Antruaniqua Owens, 9, wears face paint and a smile at the Martin Luther King Memorial Scholarship Parade in Tampa on Monday.

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 22, 2002


TAMPA -- The 10-year-old boy's real name is John Brooks III, but at Tampa's Brooks Boxers gym, they call him Fist of Thunder. Every few yards along the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade route Monday, he stopped to throw astonishingly quick flurries of hooks, jabs and undercuts to the screaming crowd.

Ask his trainer and grandfather, John Brooks Sr., a black man, what King's legacy means to him, and he points to the color of the people he brought from his gym.

"I have Hispanics, I have Mexicans, I have Haitians, I have American fighters," said Brooks Sr., who uses boxing to wean kids from the streets. "A lot of gyms, they don't want but their own kind. I don't care what color you are."

As tubas boomed and French horns piped, Mayor Dick Greco tossed beads from an open car and Tampa council members hurled handfuls of candy.

Linard McCloud, band director of the Burke High School Marching Bulldogs, brought down three bus loads of kids and their instruments from the predominantly black Charleston, S.C., school to march in the parade.

"We've got to shoot out after the parade to get back to school in the morning," McCloud said. "I said, "You can dream on the bus and keep the dream alive by going to school in the morning.' "

Barbara Harrison, 39, said she rounded up as many people as she could from her Tampa church, the House of God, for the parade. "It's part of our heritage. Kids need to know," she said, speaking of King's role in the civil rights movement. "It's a whole lot better than it was in the '60s."

Harrison watched the caravan passing through rows of decaying public housing tracts on Moses White Boulevard, many with boarded-up windows. "He would march to get that rebuilt," she said of King.

The parade, in its fifth year in Tampa, drew a larger crowd than in previous years. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office estimated 12,000 along a looping route from Blake High School to Pepin-Rood Stadium. But many were conscious of the parade's smallness, compared with its counterpart in St. Petersburg.

"This is about the littlest one we've got," said Brooks Sr., the boxing coach. "I hope next year will be a lot bigger than this year." He added, for emphasis: "This is Martin Luther King Day."

-- Christopher Goffard can be reached at 226-3337 or goffard@ptimes.com.

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