AVON PARK - Over the 23 years it has been held, it hasn't become as large and rowdy as Mardi Gras or as irreverent as Gasparilla, but organizers said that isn't the point of Avon Park's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade.
Instead, regardless of its size, it should be reverence and respect that should be most important for participants and parade watchers.
Beginning at the Redlands Christian Migrant offices and ending up about a mile and a half north at Memorial Field, including passing through the busy intersection of south Delaney Avenue and Hal McRae Boulevard, this year 18 floats, eight vehicles and 15 walking groups took the parade from the former Hopewell Academy, down Delaney Avenue and to Memorial Field at Gwen Hill Street.
Under a cloudless sky and with a cool breeze blowing, the crowds picked up as the parade ventured north, with children, parents, friends, family and even possibly enemies taking part of the morning off to come together in honor of King's legacy.
As she and her 2-year-old great-grandniece, Jamariya Hall, waved from the intersection, Avon Park resident Angela Loyd said she and her sister-in-law, Yvonne Pugh, make the parade an annual event and try to bring the children of the family out each year.
"It's fun, yes, but they need to learn about their heritage and learn what he (King) stands for: freedom for everybody," she said. "It gets bigger each year and that's the way it should be."
Around 10:30 a.m., organizers got parade participants lined up along Queen Coward Avenue, next to Hopewell. There, homemade floats by various civic, social and religious groups, were put in order and the marching band from Avon Park Middle School got their instruments ready while the drum line and color guard from Avon Park High School went over drills.
Parade coordinator Arnold Davis said this is the first year area residents and not the Southside Community Redevelopment Agency took over the parade. He said the CRA did help coordinate plans but it was the diligence of residents that got the parade rolling.
"The community took over this and are doing a great job," he said.
The parade was led by Avon Park Manager Julian Deleon, councilman Parke Sutherland and Jason Lister, public safety director. They held a sign bearing a quote attributed to King: "Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream."
In a red convertible Mustang, grand marshals Lillie Taylor and Elva "Sister" Dennis, who turns 101 in April, smiled and waved.
Waving back was Avon Park resident Laura Austin, who smiled and clapped her hands as the drummers went by. She makes watching the parade an annual event and hopes everyone else does, too.
"It's a good day to celebrate and see the dream. We still have a good way to go, but we're working on it," she said.