MLK Jr.’s impact continues to steer social consciousness

By Nick Blank
Posted 1/19/22

CLAY COUNTY – City and county officials gathered to celebrate the life and message of Martin Luther King Jr. on a brisk Monday morning at Vera Francis Hall and Hunter Douglas parks.

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MLK Jr.’s impact continues to steer social consciousness


CLAY COUNTY – City and county officials gathered to celebrate the life and message of Martin Luther King Jr. on a brisk Monday morning at Vera Francis Hall and Hunter Douglas parks.

On what would have been the civil rights leader’s 93rd birthday, the crowd heard a message about togetherness and health from Ascension St. Vincent’s Clay County Vice President of Nursing, Sadie Durham. She’s been in nursing since 2007 and is also an ordained minister.

She told the story of losing both parents due to health issues by the time she was 35. Both had issues that were treatable and preventable, Durham said.

Genetics can’t be changed, she added, but the decisions that increase risks can. She said lifestyles are passed down and lead to damaging behaviors later in life. The sudden deaths of her parents led her to evaluate her wellness choices.

“I had to acknowledge any previous unhealthy choices, uproot the longstanding ones and change my behavior to have a long-term impact on my choices and commit to change,” she said.

Durham said children in African-American and other minority groups are often not taught about wellness. She said wellness can be financial, emotional or environmental rather than just affecting their physical body. 

“All of those allow us to reach our full potential,” Durham said.

Meanwhile, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, county commissioner Betsy Condon, Clay County Parks and Recreation, Community Services and the Clerk of Courts offices, Clay County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 104, Walmart, Ascension St. Vincent’s, Starbucks, G’s BBQ, sisters of Zeta Phi Beta sorority, brothers of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity and more than 40 volunteers “with a heart” spent the morning cleanup up Hunter Douglas Park in Middleburg to honor Dr. King’s legacy.

They met Maude Burroughs Jackson, who told everyone of the history of the Hilltop community and its impact in the county. Jackson, who will turn 100 next month, said she’s been part of Hilltop her entire lifetime.

After lunch, Sheriff Michelle Cook organized a team from her agency to play a game of kickball against a team organized by Condon.

The sheriff’s office team won, 3-2.

In Green Cove Springs, Durham said King’s focus on building a legacy, asking the audience to take heart in his quote, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” The prospect of change seemed far off in King’s era, but he pushed and was committed to his goal.

“Today, I’ll leave you with this question: are you ready to build your legacy of health and wellness?” she asked.

When city officials shared their thoughts, Green Cove Springs Mayor Ed Gaw said King was a master of the English language and his quotations are words to live by.

“This morning, I’m thinking about his life and his dedication and commitment to those ideas that made this country unique,” Gaw said.

Toward the end of the gathering, Green Cove Springs Council Member Connie Butler said there is a lot more to accomplish and she recalled being seven years old when King was killed on April 4, 1968. She remembered watching Walter Cronkite and seeing the images after King’s death.

She said Vera Francis Hall Park sits on the site of a former city dump. The reason King was in Memphis, Butler said, was to support striking sanitation workers. King opened doors, she said, and Butler, city officials and staff can look after employees.

“Now I have a chance to make a difference,” Butler said.

As time has passed, Green Cove Springs Police Department Chief John Guzman said, people are judged on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.

“I’m so grateful we live in a country where minorities have reached such high positions and such great status, and only in America can we do that,” he said.


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