Take a drive down Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and you'll see a cross-section of what makes this city what it is.
The street, which the city renamed in 1987 — though the Ninth Street signs remained until 2003 — stretches for about 12 miles. It runs from the northern edge of St. Petersburg, where it feeds into the Howard Frankland Bridge, through downtown and South St. Petersburg's historically black neighborhoods, to the southern tip of Pinellas County near the Sunshine Skyway.
In between, you'll find major employers, such as Jabil Circuit and St. Anthony's Hospital; a mix of housing — from mid-century cinderblock to Allendale's grand Spanish-stucco homes; iconic bars and restaurants, including the Dairy Inn and the Flamingo Sports Bar, where Jack Kerouac might have raised his final glass; distinctive neighborhoods, such as Crescent Heights and Roser Park; and inviting public spaces, from Fossil Park to Lake Maggiore and Boyd Hill Nature Park.
Many of the challenges St. Petersburg faces are also evident: crime, poverty, aging houses and blighted neighborhoods. And the stark economic divide on either side of Central Avenue shows how far this city still has to go.
Yet, there's a powerful symbolism along that road. Because Ninth Street became Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street, his name — and maybe part of his message — crosses our minds countless times every day, as business cards change hands, letters are mailed and delivered, and people scan Google maps trying to get from one place to another.
That might be greatest effect of honoring King with a street that doesn't run only through the black community. You can't drive many places in this city without thinking about him and, hopefully, about why his name's on the street signs.
Personally, I love that this day honoring King's legacy has evolved into a national day of service.
All around us today we'll see people putting King's call to action into practice.
Students from St. Petersburg High School will deliver snack boxes to veterans at the Bay Pines VA Center. The Girlfriends of Pinellas County service club will plant a garden at a nursing home and deliver handmade teddy bears to kids at a domestic violence shelter. People will clean up trash and debris along the Pinellas Trail, and volunteers from the LiveFree! Coalition will be in South St. Petersburg passing along information about substance abuse treatment options.
That's just a few, but you get the idea. People are putting their free day to good use.
Let's keep the momentum going tomorrow.
Meet the editor
I'll be at Steam and Chill, at 7400 Gulf Blvd. in St. Pete Beach, from 9 to 10 a.m. Tuesday. Stop by and say hi.