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Miami Herald - April 4, 2006

MLK's eldest child is out to reclaim boulevard

Martin Luther King Jr.'s eldest child wants to build on his legacy of advocating for poor people during a speech tonight to commemorate the 37th anniversary of his assassination.


In its fourth year of a campaign to revitalize Martin Luther King Boulevard, an inner-city economic development agency brings the eldest child of the slain civil rights leader to Miami to draw attention to their efforts.

Yolanda King, actress and motivational speaker, will address Miamians tonight during the annual Reclaim the Dream memorial service on Liberty City's most famous street.

The tribute, sponsored by the Martin Luther King Economic Development Corporation, commemorates the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., gunned down at a Memphis motel 37 years ago today.

It focuses on a goal of King's civil rights work that gets little mention these days -- bringing prosperity and wealth to poor neighborhoods. The corporation is trying to bring new businesses, higher incomes and a deeper sense of hope along MLK Boulevard, also known as Northwest 62nd Street, and into one of Miami's impoverished communities.

''At the end of his days, he was dealing specifically with economic justice. That's where the battle still remains,'' Yolanda King said of her father Monday. ``This event very much captures some of the work that he was doing. It makes so much sense to be involved in something like this.''

At the campaign kickoff in 2003, her sister, the Rev. Bernice King, scolded residents and officials for the deteriorated social and economic conditions along the street that bears her father's name.

For more than two decades, Liberty City residents have heard myriad promises that government would pour millions of dollars into the area in the hope of bringing back businesses that left after the 1980 McDuffie riots. Violence broke out in mostly black areas of the city after four white county police officers were acquitted of beating a black motorcyclist to death.

Leaders at the Martin Luther King Economic Development Corp. hope Yolanda King will move both Liberty City and other residents and business owners to maintain interest in their revitalization project.

The proposal includes bringing a mix of shopping plazas, street improvements, park upgrades and cultural landmarks to Liberty City and Little Haiti.

David Chiverton, tribute coordinator, said the past year delivered some progress. The county opened a new office plaza building to house several departments, including human services, solid waste, corrections and Team Metro. Several businesses and the MLK Park also were renovated.

The sight of construction at Edison Plaza sparked a buzz in the neighborhood, Chiverton said. The $13.5 million business development project, site of the old Winn-Dixie market, will bring a major grocery chain and several urban wear shops. Chiverton predicts the project will be ready by early fall.

''Before, people were skeptical, saying nothing is going to happen,'' Chiverton said. ``It's getting better. They can see something going on.''

King and her three siblings suffered another tragedy earlier this year. On Jan. 30, their mother, Coretta Scott King, 78, died of pneumonia brought on by complications caused by ovarian cancer.

Yolanda King said her mother's death was ``probably the toughest thing I've had to go through. Fortunately we're strongly spiritually rooted.''

An actress, King also is founder of Higher Ground Productions, an organization ''dedicated to the celebration of diversity and unity among all people.'' She also has authored motivational books, the latest of which is Embracing Your Power in 30 Days, a Journey of Self-Discovery and Personal Freedom.