About 300 people, including city officials and dignitaries, attended Cape Coral's first Martin Luther King Day Celebration on Monday at Oasis High School to honor and pay tribute to the civil rights activist.
It was only a couple of months ago that City Manager John Szerlag pitched the idea of an MLK celebration to City Charter School Superintendent Angela Pruitt, who accepted the challenge of bringing the celebration together in such a short time.
"We followed the format of the celebration they had in Troy (Mich.)," said Pruitt. "We gave the students here time to write essays and possibly some art for it before the Christmas break. They had to be judged and we just picked the winners last week."
Charter School Superintendent Angela Pruitt and City Councilmember Derrick Donnell lead the unity walk on the campus of Oasis High School Monday at the city's Martin Luther King Day Celebration.
When Szerlag came to Cape Coral, he noticed the city lacked a celebration.
"I pirated the idea from what we had in Troy," Szerlag said. "We started small and watched it grow. I have to give all the credit to Dr. Pruitt because she thought it was a great idea and did 98 percent of the work."
The 90-minute session started with the pledge of allegiance and an invocation by Cape Christian Fellowship Pastor Dennis Gingrich. Pruitt and Szerlag welcomed everyone and introduced city and school officials as well as presented certificates and trophies to essay and art contest winners.
First-place winners read their essay on the topic of Martin Luther King's thoughts and principles. The Oasis High School's model UN team gave a slide presentation on the lives and achievements of King, Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela and other rights activists through the years.
City Councilmember and Lee District Schools educator Derrick Donnell was the keynote speaker for the inaugural event, followed by the Oasis High School Ovations Show Choir performance of several patriotic songs.
The assembly then participated in a short unity walk from the school gymnasium to the cafeteria where they enjoyed coffee and pastries provided by Dunkin Donuts and Perkins Restaurants.
"I think it went great," said Pruitt. "The kids were wonderful and we got a lot of positive feedback. I am very pleased."
Pruitt already is looking forward to next year's celebration.
"We'll have more time to put something together for next year," she said. "We'll look at some things we can do better and differently."
Donnell was the most enthusiastic participant.
"I'm exuberant and very happy," said Donnell. "I think it exceeded my expectations, though any time you do something for the first time you don't really know what to expect, but it was very positive."
Szerlag was pleased with the turnout for the first MLK celebration in the city's history.
"I think it was wonderful," said Szerlag. "The turnout was great, the kids were wonderful. I can't thank Angela (Pruitt) enough for all of her hard work."