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Unity Celebration fit for (Dr.) King

With every third Monday in January comes a welcomed break from the hectic lifestyle that follows the holiday season. Gifts are exchanged throughout December, and the new year is celebrated with fireworks and champagne.

By Martin Luther King Jr. Day, however, the sky is lit only by streetlights, many people simply celebrating a day without work or school.

One event hopes to strengthen the holiday’s meaning in citizens’ minds.

On Sunday, the International Bazaar in Centro Ybor is holding its second annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Celebration. Though MLK Jr. Day is celebrated Monday, the event takes place Sunday to recreate and honor King’s tradition of hosting Sunday dinners, during which he would gather with friends and family to discuss current events and civil rights issues. Similarly, the Unity Celebration plans to bring together the community to increase awareness of King’s accomplishments and discuss the promotion of racial unity.

This free event will take place from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. A performance by The Kuumba Dancers and Drummers will kick off a series of entertainers, including other musicians and guest speakers.

“The Kuumba dancers are powerful and incredible,” said Jacqueline Conley, owner of the International Bazaar.

Conley expects they will be a popular addition to this year’s event, along with the other musical performances. Such as a flute player, a percussionist and African drummers. When there isn’t a live performance, there will be jazz and blues music playing to entertain attendees.

The producers of the Unity Celebration felt it was necessary that the event be entertaining but also informative, so they invited some of the Lost Boys of Darfur to tell their true-life stories of escaping the horrors in Sudan and traveling to Ethiopia. Once in Ethiopia, these boys, who range from age 9-14, were given refugee status and now some live in the United States. They will present along with other special guests, such as the Savita Society for the Empowerment of Women and the Hillsborough County Human Rights Council.

Character Development of Tampa Bay is sponsoring the Unity Celebration for the second year. Kenny Conley, CDTB executive director, believes in continuing the mission Dr. King began during the civil rights era.

“Civil rights equals human rights. We want to give young people the moral compass to continue the process of change in our society,” Conley said.

According to Conley, 400 people attended last year’s Unity Celebration, and he hopes to see attendance grow this year. The event is intended for people of all ages, with arts and crafts provided for children.

Other activities include readings from John Parks, an interpretation of King’s speech and insight from people who walked alongside King during his protests.

Refreshments from around the world will be served during the celebration, promoting a diverse culture while furthering the tribute to King’s Sunday dinners.

“There will be Caribbean, German and Indian food, among others,” Jacqueline Conley said. “Local restaurants are helping us to provide a diverse array of food.”

After the performances, there will be round-table discussions to converse that will cover various subjects. According to Jacqueline Conley, all of the guest speakers will have their own tables to discuss topics such as peace, human rights and racial unity.