The national holiday commemorating the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began in 1986. In anticipation of the new holiday, Orlando City Commissioner Mable Butler urged the City of Orlando to formally establish a committee to recognize and honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the national King Holiday. Mayor Bill Frederick established the Martin Luther King Celebration Day Committee in 1985. Although the city had provided funding for activities, this group was also charged with planning and coordinating holiday activities. The group saw the holiday as an opportunity to bring the community together.
Shortly thereafter, the small group was expanded by Mayor Frederick to include appointed members from the public, private and non-profit sectors to fundraise and coordinate celebration and recognition events each January and was renamed the Mayor’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission. It is important to note that two community organizations have partnered with the Commission since its inception: the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and the Southwest Orlando Jaycees.
The work of the Commission continued to increase under the administration of Mayor Glenda E. Hood. In order to show the importance of the MLK Holiday to the City of Orlando, she initiated the vigil at City Hall and the community candlelight walk to the annual interfaith service. Mayor Hood challenged the Commission each year to reach out to different populations in the community. As a result of her request to reach out to our community’s youth, the Mayor’s MLK Youth Humanitarian Award program began in 2000. One student from each middle and high school in Orange County Public Schools was selected each year because he or she demonstrated specific ideals of Dr. King. This program, which is now a leadership program for OCPS high school students, has grown to be the Commission’s own signature event with nationally-known speakers inspiring the students, families, school personnel, Commission sponsors and guests at the annual award service.
Under the committed leadership of current Mayor Buddy Dyer, the Commission has evolved from concentrating primarily on holiday events to a year-round commission which focuses on specific aspects of Dr. King’s legacy - service, equality, peace, justice and inclusion for all. A name change as well as a new mission statement came with that expanded focus.
The name change and expanded mission have resulted in the Commission participating in, supporting and leading community events, such as the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Like Mayor Hood, Mayor Dyer challenges the Commission each year to continue to broaden its outreach into the community each year.