A clarion call for Franklin County to continue as “a beloved community” highlighted Monday’s 31st annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday celebration.

“This is our ‘beloved community,” said keynote speaker Shirley White-O’Neal, a founder of the county’s annual celebration who was keynoting the event for the first time. “We can make the world know there is a community Dr. King talked about, and it’s right here in this county.”

O’Neal noted that much has changed in the years since she was a young person growing up here, attending Quinn High School, and that newcomers have changed the very neighborhood where she lives.

“We receive everybody in our community,” she said. “We can put Franklin County on the map as the beloved community. We are better together, we can do love together, we can excel together.

“We will be a beloved community, because of the work Dr. King did,” O’Neal said.

O’Neal was bestowed a lifetime achievement award by the MLK advisory’s board’s vice-director, Elinor Mount-Simmons.

Simmons also presented awards on behalf of the board to Valentina Webb, for community service, to Alfred Goosby for economic empowerment, to physician assistant Larry Applebee for humanitarian efforts, and to Carol Ray Thomas, on behalf of her father Clyde Ray and several others who helped to create single-member districts in the 1980s.

With Pastor David Walker as master of ceremonies, the Armory ceremony opened with a presentation of colors, and a flag ceremony, conducted by retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Anthony Reaves, and the Leon County High School Marine Corps Reserve Officer Training Corps.

Pastor Themo Patriotis offered the invocation, followed by a welcome from Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson.

“As we celebrate this occasion together, I welcome you to seriously consider the significance of Dr. King’s message, that "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”, and his examples of a non-violent, peaceful protest,” said Johnson. “I welcome you to become astute to the national discourse that has begun to outwardly embrace the notion that racial division is better for the health and welfare of this great nation than love, peace or unity.

“I welcome you to wake up out of your slumber and to get involved by voting in every election (local, state and federal) before Dr. King’s dream suddenly becomes an unspeakable nightmare,” Johnson said. “I welcome you to leave this celebration with a strong resolve to resist all that are desirous to divide this country along the lines of race, social class, gender, creed and color.”

Following greetings from Robert L. Davis, vice-director of the MLK board, the gathering listened to Dr. King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech projected on a giant screen overhead.

A dance presentation by the Pam Nobles Studio dancers followed, and after that Jhaki Davis introduced O’Neal as the main speaker.

The event closed with prayers, for our country led by Evangelist Alma Pugh, from the Love Center Church, for our nation, led by Pastor Brian Brightly, of the St. George Island United Methodist Church; and for President Trump, led by Pastor L. D. Martin, of the Love Center Church.

Delores Croom wrapped up the event with a thank you to the county and city officials in attendance, including Tax Collector Rick Watson, Sheriff A.J. Smith, School Board Members Stacy Kirvin and Teresa Ann Martin, Apalachicola Police Chief Bobby Varnes, and Apalachicola City Commissioners Jimmy Elliott and Brenda Ash.

She also slauted the MLK advisory board, which included Goosy, Dottye Thornburg, Mount-Simmons, Myrtis Wynn Williams, Patty Creamer, Richie Herrington, Rosa Tolliver, Scottie Lolley, Sheila Martin, Warrenatta Key, Applebee, Walker, J. Gordon Shuler and Fonda Davis Sr.

Shuler and Davis carried the giant banner that led the march to the courthouse steps, where Robert Davis offered a prayer. Following that, the Main Street trolley was available to take people on tours of the city.