Members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lakeland and Mulberry walked in the 2022 Lakeland MLK Day Parade.

Lakeland’s Martin Luther King Day celebration is so big this year, it can’t be contained to just one day.

City and community leaders are hosting the Dream Mega Fest for the first time in 12 years. The 2023 Dream Mega Fest is a 10-day celebration that includes the annual parade, a new leadership forum, and free admission Saturday to the Florida Children’s Museum in Bonnet Springs Park.

“This is the biggest collection of events ever in the city,” said Cindy Glover, the community engagement coordinator for the Lakeland Community & Economic Development Department. “The last ‘Dream Mega Fest’ was in 2011, so it is returning after a long hiatus.”

Glover said the driving force behind the events, church service and annual parade is Lynne Simpkins, formerly the city’s neighborhood outreach coordinator for the Community & Economic Development Department. She retired from the city and is now the head of the Education and Enlightenment Group.

“My vision is developing a wholesome community like the one I grew up in,” Simpkins told LkldNow.

The Swan City Jazz Festival, a free event featuring a rotation of, national, local and talented student musicians, moves to Munn Park for the first time this year.

UPDATE: For Saturday, the festival has been relocated to the Kathleen High School Auditorium because of the threat of rain.

“This event has continued to grow steadily each year and now we have a multi-day jazz festival,” Simpkins said in a press release. “We believe cultural experiences such as this will continue to honor the legacy of Dr. King by helping to shape the look and feel of our community.  We are very blessed this year to have an awesome line-up that includes two amazing female saxophonists as headliners for each night.” 

Paula Atherton, who has had several number one songs on various jazz charts, is the headliner for Friday night, while Lakeland’s Jazmin Ghent is playing Saturday night. She won the 2019 “NAACP Image Award” for Outstanding Jazz Album, “The Story of Jazz,” was nominated for 2019 Smooth Jazz Network’s Best Artist of the Year and was voted 2017’s Best New Smooth Jazz Artist. 

Glover pointed out that three of the events are city led or co-sponsored: The Day of Caring at the Children’s Museum, the Swan City Jazz Fest, and the MLK Parade. The rest are community driven.

The Day of Caring starts off at The Joinery on Lake Mirror, which is partnering with local organizations, for an MLK Brunch and Serve Day on Monday, Jan. 16, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The first 100 guests to check in at The Joinery will receive complimentary brunch. Following a keynote address by Kelvin McCree, volunteers will then serve with local nonprofit organizations, including Lighthouse Ministries, Dream Center of Lakeland and One More Child.

The Polk Museum of Art is showcasing an exhibit by Black quilter Lauren Austin, whose quilts tell stories, with a talk scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 6 p.m.

The MLK Car Showcase on Sunday, Jan. 22, is being organized by some Black-owned local car dealerships or car customization businesses.

This year’s annual parade has more than 100 participants and will be held Saturday, Jan. 21, with a 1 p.m. start time on Providence Road at the 14th Street intersection. It will travel to 10th Street and turn east before heading south on MLK Avenue.  The parade includes professional floats, step/dance teams, walkers, decorated vehicles, car clubs, and marching bands.

“Our History is Our Future – Protect It and Preserve It” is the theme for this year’s parade. A senior citizens’ seating section and a vendor/exhibitor area will be set up at 10th Street and MLK, where the judging also will take place. Volunteers will be along the entire route to assist with safety and distribution of information.

Simpkins announced that this year’s grand marshal is Willie Horton, a retired Detroit Tigers left fielder and designated hitter. He started with the team’s farm league in 1961 and joined the major league team in 1963, helping the Tigers win the World Series in 1968.

“He has a storied professional baseball career spanning 18 years, and he is famous for standing in his Detroit Tigers uniform during a 1967 race riot, pleading for peace,” Simpkins said.

She added that Lakeland High School football coach Bill Castle will also be in the parade — his first community appearance since his retirement announcement and after recently winning an eighth state championship.   

Simpkins said the entire Lakeland community is encouraged to attend the MLK Parade and celebrate King’s life and his legacy of “a vision for a more diverse America where all enjoyed the benefits of equality.” (Check LkldNow after the parade for a photo gallery.)

Schedule of events

MLK Inaugural Leadership Forum: “Living, Learning and Leading Lakeland – Friday, Jan. 13, 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. at Lake Crago Park. Business executives are participating in a panel discussion, including Paul Despinosse and LaTarsha Melvin of Publix, Sheilitha Williams of Walgreens, Tracy Wilson of Marriott Vacations Worldwide, and Karen Turner of Lockheed Martin. Admission is free.

School Daze: A Divine 9 & HBCU Alumni Mixer – Saturday, Jan. 14, 7 p.m. at the Lake Mirror Auditorium & Peggy Brown Building, 121 S. Lake Ave. Free tickets are available at Fourlifepromo.com. Tables are available for sponsorship. It is open to all.

Day of Caring Children’s Festival for ages 12 and younger – Saturday, Jan. 14, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., Florida Children’s Museum at Bonnet Springs Park. Free admission for all. Entrepreneurs and vendors will be on hand.

Gospel Explosion – Sunday, Jan. 15 — 3 p.m., New Bethel A.M.E Church, 2122 Martin Luther King, Jr., Ave. Admission is free. The New Bethel choir, praise team, musicians and invited guests will be singing old hymns, spiritual songs and performing praise dances.

A Day of Service – Monday, Jan. 16. Call 404-735-8994 to get involved. The Joinery on Lake Mirror is partnering with local organizations for an MLK Brunch and Serve Day from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The first 100 guests to check in at The Joinery will receive complimentary brunch. At 12:30 pm, keynote speaker Kelvin McCree will lead a conversation honoring and remembering Dr. King’s legacy, the importance of social justice and continued activism. Volunteers will then have the opportunity to honor Dr. King’s legacy by serving local nonprofit organizations, including Lighthouse Ministries, Dream Center of Lakeland and One More Child.

Martin Luther King Prayer Breakfast – Mon. Jan. 16 — 9 a.m. at Pilgrim Rest Freewill Baptist Church. 1047 N. Ohio Ave. Speaker is William Boss, pastor at Greater Faith Christian Church in Lakeland. Tickets are $30.

Canvas and Culture Conversations – Monday, Jan. 16 – 2-5 p.m. at The Well, 114 E. Parker St. Artist and art teacher Kent McCallister will display his work and paint a live painting, along with artist David Collins. A cultural conversation starts at 4 p.m.

MLK Digital Business Challenge 2023 – Tuesday, Jan. 17 – 5 p.m. at Catapult, 502 E. Main St. It is an opportunity for high school students to learn about and obtain seed funds to start their own technology business. Door prizes will be available. To register in advance, text DREAM to 844-529-7022

An Evening of Art – Wednesday, Jan. 18 – 6 p.m. at the Polk Museum of Art, reception for Black quilter Lauren Austin. 800 E. Palmetto St. Museum Executive Director Alex Rich will host a talk with Austin during the event.

MLK Youth Oratorical Contest – Thursday, Jan. 19 — 7 p.m. at New Mt. Zion M. B. Church, 1321 N. Webster Ave. #75. Cora Rankins – The topic is interviewing Dr. King and the challenges of that in today’s world. Middle and high school students have submitted their essays/speeches and about a dozen finalists have been chosen by a committee. The program helps prepare students for academics, poise and public speaking. First, second and third-place winners will be chosen for monetary prizes.

Swan City Jazz Fest – Friday, Jan. 20 AND Saturday, Jan. 21. 3-9 p.m. both days. Munn Park, between Kentucky and Tennessee Streets on Main Street. UPDATE: For Saturday, the festival has been relocated to the Kathleen High School Auditorium because of the threat of rain.

Friday, January 20th

  • Mulberry Jazz Ensemble
  • Harrison School of the Arts Jazz Orchestra
  • Winter Haven Jazz Messengers
  • All County Jazz Band
  • Let’s Ride Jazz Band 
  • Paula Atherton

Saturday, January 21st

  • LHS Jazz Band
  • Lakeland Anchor & Swan City Quartet
  • Swan City Jazz Project
  • Robbs Trio
  • The Franchise Players
  • Jazmin Ghent

MLK Annual Parade – Saturday, Jan. 21 – 1 p.m. More than 100 participants will march. It starts on Providence Road at the 14th Street intersection. It will travel to 10th Street and turn east before heading south on MLK Avenue.  The theme is “Our History is Our Future – Protect It and Preserve It.” Grand marshal is former Detroit Tigers star Willie Horton.

Old School Celebration – Saturday, Jan. 21 – 8 p.m. at The Well, 114 E. Parker St. This is an opportunity for people to dress up in their best “back in the day” outfits and enjoy R&B, funk and soul music from the 1950s through the 1970s. Entrance is $20.

MLK Car Showcase – Sunday, Jan. 22 – 12 p.m. – 6 p.m. at the Coleman Bush Building, 1104 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. About 40 unique showpiece cars will be on display, with prizes given out in various categories. Several slots are still available for entries. Contact Diretta’s Baby, a local nonprofit organization, at 863-286-4371.

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Kimberly C. Moore

Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at kimberly@lkldnow.com or 863-272-9250.

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