As music and the smell of BBQ grills filled the air, hundreds of citizens gathered in McKenzie Park in downtown Panama City on Monday to honor America's best-known civil rights leader.
The community festival, organized by ACURE, celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the federal holiday that bears his name. More than four decades after King's 1968 assassination, a new generation is keeping his dream alive.
"People are coming together and respecting one another, not like in days of old," said Mary Barker. "We all have come a long a way."
Black and white, young and old… they all came together to remember the civil rights leader. Several elected officials and dignitaries addressed the crowd. "[Dr. King] was able to articulate a message like no one else because he was genuine and he was caring," said Mayor Greg Brudnicki. "No one will ever be able to fill his shoes."
"In his life and in his death, he helped us to work the dream," said ACURE's Sharon Sheffield. "To make people know that everybody is equal, that we are not on earth to hate."
For some, progress wasn't the only reason to celebrate the day. "It reminds us we have come so far but we have a long ways to go," said Mary Hines.
Sheffield said it's important to set examples for the younger generation so the leaders of tomorrow can "pick up the mantle and carry it on."
Ytearie Devalt, 11, is proof that race relations have improved since King led the civil rights movement during the turbulent 1960s. "He helped us to know that we shouldn't solve our problems with violence," she said. "Now blacks and whites can play with each other and just be friends... he made a difference in the world."