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 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 gathering 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 Youth Humanitarian Award program began in 2000. One student from each middle and high school in Orange County Public Schools is selected each year because he or she has demonstrated specific ideals of Dr. King. This program has grown to be the Commission’s own signature event with nationally-known speakers inspiring the students, families, school personnel and guests.
Under the committed leadership of current Mayor Buddy Dyer, the Commission evolved from concentrating primarily on holiday events to a year-round commission which focuses on specific aspects of Dr. King’s legacy. With that change, came a name change as well as a new mission statement.
The Orlando Mayor’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission’s mission is to strengthen our community by promoting Dr. King’s legacy of equality, justice, peace, respect and inclusion for all. The expanded mission has allowed the Commission to participate and lead 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 to continue to broaden its outreach into the community each year.