What Martin Luther King Day Means To Diverse South Florida

Jan 21, 2013

Brent McLaughlin is the executive director of Branches (formally South Florida Urban Ministries), a non profit organization that has been in Miami-Dade for about 40 years.
Credit Arianna Prothero


People across South Florida's diverse communities and cultures marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This year is also the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

More than 100 people gathered at Lakeview Elementary in North Miami to celebrate MLK Day. Brent McLaughlin, executive director of Branches, one of the non profits that put on the event, said people who grew up in the United States sometimes take Dr. King's message for granted.

"Obviously Martin Luther King day is deeply embedded in our history because of the civil rights movement and the change that took place in our country,” McLaughlin said. “As people come to our country, especially here in Miami where this is a gateway, literally, from Latin America, from all parts of the country, for some, it's a new concept."

Dr. King's Message Resonates Differently With Diverse South Florida

Dadie Lassage, who works with Branches through AmeriCorps, immigrated to the United States from Haiti when she was 6 years old. Lassage credits Dr. King for paving the way for families like hers.

“Why would you even want to come to a place where there is no opportunity?” Lassage said. “So he created that opportunity ... for everybody for every island because we are all one color one people, we are all Africans, we all came from the same place, we just got separated along the way. So, technically he did it for all of us.”

As part of her job with AmeriCorps, Lassage teaches people how to manage their finances and helps them find work.

She says everyone can sit where they want on the bus, but that doesn't mean the work Dr. King started is done.  

“We focus on their finances," she said. Knowing about credit scores, getting an education and showing people how to apply for a job are among the services the nonprofit offers, Lassage said. “It's another form of slavery when you don't have the proper tools in order to enjoy your freedoms."

Lassage says she believes class and poverty has become the 21st century form of segregation.