Winter Garden, Ocoee ready to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day

The two cities will honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at their annual events Jan. 20.

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  • | 8:12 p.m. January 15, 2020
Residents will gather to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Winter Garden and Ocoee Jan. 20.
Residents will gather to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Winter Garden and Ocoee Jan. 20.
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Winter Garden is ready to honor the memory and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — and it’s doing so with its largest celebration yet.

The city’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration kicks off at 10 a.m. with a parade through downtown for the second straight year. But new this time around is a larger festival afterward, including a children’s area and more musical entertainment. The festival also will continue throughout the afternoon for the first time this year, said Laura Coar, Winter Garden parks and recreation director.

“In the past it was a much shorter event; last year we did 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” Coar said. “This year, because the popularity is gaining in it, we’ve actually expanded the event. … (The festival) actually runs from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. this year.”

Also new this year is a partnership with the Garden Theatre to host two free movie screenings — “Freedom Riders” at 5:45 p.m. and “Green Book” at 8:15 p.m.

“The mindset of wanting to expand it is we think it’s a valuable event — we think it’s very community based, and we think it can become one of our signature events, like Light Up Winter Garden and our Halloween events and all of that,” Coar said.

Residents can expect the event to grow even more next year, Coar said, adding that the Garden Theatre will be showing films throughout the day instead of just in the evening.

It’s all meant to bring the community together and honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., Coar said.

“It’s extremity important, because we’re a large, diverse community and we need to celebrate our large, diverse community,” she said.



Dr. Paul Ortiz always has had a passion for sharing African-American history — and next week he’ll speak on the legacy of one of history’s most influential figures from the civil rights movement.

Ortiz will be the keynote speaker at Ocoee’s 14th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Parade and Celebration Monday, Jan. 20. After a 10 a.m. parade marches from Citrus Elementary School to the West Oaks Mall, members of the community will gather in the mall’s food court for a celebration where Ortiz will speak.

A professor of history at the University of Florida, Ortiz also is the director of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program. He’s written multiple books delving into African-American history and the civil rights movement, including “Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920,” which discusses the Ocoee Massacre.

The professor made an appearance to speak at the same Martin Luther King Jr. event back in 2010 — it’s always a privilege to visit the city, he said.

“It’s very humbling and very inspiring for me to be able to do this,” Ortiz said.

“It’s just been very humbling and a very educational experience for me, because — even though I’ve done a lot of archival research on African-American history in Orange County and other parts of the country — the communities in Orange County are just so dedicated to bringing out the truth and then using history to really try to bring about truth and reconciliation this is one of the reasons I keep coming back to Orange County. … A lot of people are beginning to see Ocoee as a model for one way on how to use history to really work on racial truth and reconciliation.”

It’s more important now than ever before to remember the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., Ortiz said.

“He bore witness and had tremendous courage and stood on the side of the oppressed in a way that we really need to remember and learn from,” Ortiz said.


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