At 13, Treyvon Conwell isn't old enough to have been around when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached a non-violent solution for civil rights improvements.
Still, because he understands the impact of King's legacy, the youth wants to do what he can to honor him.
Joining Jacksonville's annual MLK march on Monday, young Treyvon volunteered to help a local policeman heading up the march with a squad car, ensuring that participants would stay safe.
“We're doing this so we can remember what Martin Luther King did for black and whites,” he said of his family's decision to spend their day off downtown, traveling the route from the Norman Activity Center to Sweet Union Baptist Church.
Pam, his mother, explained their decision: “It has to do with history,” she said. “It's people coming together, the way it was in the beginning” when supporters rallied around King, a Georgia pastor remembered for incorporating his Christian beliefs into a practice of non-violent civil disobedience.
King was gunned down by an assassin April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1986, the United States government established January 20 as a federal holiday in King's honor.
In Jacksonville, throngs of marchers packed Sweet Union Church, where a “Living the Dream” program featured song, scripture and skits, along with a dramatized delivery of Dr. King's famous “I have a dream” speech by yhe Rev. Jason Peoples of Miles Chapel CME Church in Crockett.
As Peoples began reciting the final words of the speech – in which King invoked lyrics from an old Negro spiritual – the crowd joined in, voices ringing loud and clear: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
His fellow preacher, the Rev. A.E. Gibson of Jacksonville's Greater New Zion Baptist Church, admitted to the gathering that “when the reverend was doing the 'I have a dream' speech, I was going right along with him. Because I know the reason why I'm here today is because this world is so much better for us … I can go into Denny's and nobody has to tell me to go to the back door. I can go to a motel today and nobody can tell me you can't stay here (because of you color). I can go anywhere where all free men go, and I'm not turned away because of the color of my skin.
“I really do appreciate those blacks and whites alike that have made those sacrifices down through the years, because again, I've seen who have made it better for me,” said Gibson, keynote speaker for this year's event. “When we take a real serious look at how we got to where we are, we have to realize that we owe a great debt (to those men and women who sacrificed much to ensure rights of all citizens), because they suffered so many indignities, so many injustices, and now here we are, free, and what are we doing with our time?”
Dr. King's approach to societal injustice was one that “(shook) the nation to its core” because it caused “us to take a deeper look” at ourselves, Gibson said.
“He was more militant than Malcolm X or any of those (others). You know why I say that? Because he was working with love. He said 'Do whatever you want to do to me – kick me, bomb my home, do whatever you want to do with me,'” Gibson said, adding that “the whole philosophy of non-violent action is to win the soul of the one who is possessed by the demon (of hate). It's not to humiliate or defeat, but to win the souls of (our) dear