By Hailey Persinger
Killeen Daily Herald
More than 20 years since the tradition began, Killeen's chapter of the NAACP will again host its annual tribute Monday to civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The event will mark the ninth year the group has held its community-wide tribute at the Killeen Community Center after its years of carrying on the tradition at the Killeen Mall. Along with the change of location, Rosa Hereford, coordinator of the event, said the tradition has grown in the number of participants and featured speakers, entertainers and area leaders.
Each year, the group begins its celebration of the speaker and civil rights activist who was assassinated in April 1968, with the Killeen Youth Council's march through downtown Killeen. As the group of students in kindergarten through high school finish their march, the youth, their parents, coordinators and participants leave downtown to converge on the community center where various acts and speakers wait to celebrate and tell the story of King's fight for equality.
"We have a faithful group of people that love our program," Hereford said. "And our program has a lot of our youth doing the main parts."
Including youth is a big priority for the NAACP, Hereford said. Their participation in the event gives them the opportunity to voice their knowledge of the fight for equality. Preparation for the march and the tribute shows young people that one man's fight opened the doors of equality for many.
Hereford said while those of past generations have experienced segregation and the passage of laws to abolish it, today's youth have never known anything different.
"They really were not involved in a lot of things … we have integration and things like that. Everybody is doing things the same. We have equality. That's what the kids needed to know – the history and the place from where they came."
This year's keynote speaker is Killeen City Manager Connie Green.
"I was really honored that I was asked to be the speaker for that event. I think it's very important that we don't forget the significance and the accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," Green said. "It's been a very enlightening experience for me. ... The civil rights movement was probably a time period like none other in our nation's history.
Other dignitaries –Killeen Mayor Timothy Hancock, Harker Heights Councilman Rob Robinson, Killeen ISD Deputy Superintendent Bobby Ott and State Representative Jimmie Don Aycock – will be on hand to deliver greetings to all who congregate at the community center Monday.
The event, "Celebrating the Spirit of the Man and the Movement," begins at 12:30 p.m. The Killeen Youth Council's march begins at 10 a.m. at the corner of College Street and Avenue D.