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As it has for many years past, West Volusia once again has planned a robust celebration for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. There will be events in Deltona and DeLand, including a gospel concert, a march and a day of family entertainment at Earl Brown Park, for example.

Details are in the calendar of events inside the Extra! section in this edition, and on Page 8A.

As children, we learn about MLK, and children will do so again this year. We learn how inspiring, how thoughtful, how much of a trailblazer King was during tumultuous times. We listen to the speeches every year. Maybe we participate in the celebrations.

Shilretha Dixon, who is deeply involved with DeLand’s African-American community as director of the Spring Hill Community Resource Center, would like to see tangible effects from the annual weekend celebration.

“What measurable effects do the MLK celebrations have?” Dixon asked. “By what ruler do we measure how we carry on MLK’s message? What have we created for the people? What jobs are there for them?”

The Beacon will attempt to answer her questions in a series of stories planned over the next several weeks.

We’ll start in Spring Hill. Some of the organizers and participants in West Volusia’s MLK Day events are residents of this DeLand neighborhood that is predominantly African-American and persistently low-income.    

Partly in DeLand and partly in unincorporated Volusia County, Spring Hill has a rich history, a history like that of many towns. It is a history colored by endemic racism.

Before the freezes in the late 1800s and early 1900s decimated the citrus industry, the community was predominantly a residential area for agricultural workers.

But the history of citrus labor in Florida is one made possible by slavery. Even after slavery was abolished, orange groves continued to employ underpaid workers who were mainly black.

Today, the Spring Hill neighborhood has one of the highest poverty rates in the county, and the lowest median incomes.

Multiple failed annexation attempts, one a decade-and-a-half-ago, saw some of DeLand’s richest residents voting to determine the future of the poorest. The city and county united to form a Community Redevelopment Agency to foster progress, but it has struggled to have funds enough to do more than put Band-Aids on an amputated limb.

This isn’t about black people — it’s about all people. A community cut off from a flourishing town is existing without prospering, blocks from rising property values and low unemployment, new businesses and a few miles from a $59,082-a-year private university.

As DeLand continues to grow, we leave a community behind, because it won’t make us any money. Our series will explore that, and what we can all do to change it.

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