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Southwest Florida Marks MLK Day

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is seen Monday, Aug. 22, 2011 in Washington, ahead of its dedication next weekend. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is seen Monday, Aug. 22, 2011 in Washington, ahead of its dedication next weekend. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Southwest Florida pauses Monday to mark the life of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior.

People will gather for an event in downtown Fort Myers on Saturday evening, and then march on MLK Boulevard on Monday morning.

This year’s national holiday comes at a time when some in the local Black community see a weakening of racial harmony and justice.

“Race relations today would disappoint Dr. King,” Lee Pitts, host of a TV talk show in southwest Florida for 31 years, said.

Pitts cited the controversy over voting rights legislation. “I’m like: voting rights deal? We’re trying to pass a fair vote? I thought that was resolved,” Pitts said.

Audrea Anderson also is concerned. She’s worked for many years for racial justice in Lee County, and has a stark take on the current state of race relations.

“We’re going backwards,” Anderson said.

She worked last fall to convince Lee County Commissioners to approve a redistricting map that, in her opinion, would not split up the Black community.

But commissioners voted for a different map that puts some of the Dunbar community in with North Fort Myers for a commission district. Commissioners who voted for that map said it was not designed to weaken the Black vote. Anderson disagreed.

“It was a slap in the face. Humiliating,” she said.

Bertrand Brinson is the senior program coordinator at the STARS complex in the Dunbar community of Fort Myers. Brinson works with teenagers, and he refuses to become negative about current events.

“Definitely encouraged. Always encouraged,” Brinson said.

He noted that young people form many of their opinions based on social media.

He said he asks Black teens to do more.

“I preach to them: do your research, look at the politicians,” Brinson said. “Look at who is running for what. And do what you can to improve your community.”

Talk show host Lee Pitts said his mother moved the family from Birmingham, Alabama, to Florida, right after a church was bombed. That was 1963, and four Black girls died in the bombing. Pitts said his mother wanted to get away from racial violence. Pitts said he worries now about the safety of his 13-year-old son.

“He could be mistaken for someone, and shot, by vigilantes,” Pitts said. “Look at what just happened: three men went to prison for killing a Black man who was out jogging. He was Black while jogging.”

Lee Pitts will be honored by organizers of this year's MLK Day events. He and three other local people will receive Keeper of the Dream awards for their work in civil rights.

Despite the challenges of these times, Audrea Anderson said she draws strength from the example of Martin Luther King, Jr., from decades ago.

“We have hope,” she said. “I am not ready to give up. I will fight.”

Forty-one-year veteran of television news in markets around the country, including more than 18 years as an anchor and reporter at WINK-TV in southwest Florida.