For the past four decades, on the third Monday in January, people have gathered in cities across the country to celebrate one of civil rights’ greatest champions.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is usually a time to remember the late activist’s life and acknowledge his achievements with parades, family festivals, food and fun.However, in the midst of a global pandemic, the day will be celebrated differently. Many of South Florida’s staple events will go on this year, albeit virtually or in a socially distanced manner.
Many have questioned if the spirit of the day will remain with a pandemic-era approach. Certain aspects of an event can be lost if the format is changed. However, this hasn’t stopped many organizations from marking this moment in the best way they can.
“We just want to continue Dr. King’s dream of equality, freedom and prosperity, more so now than ever before,” said Ladi Jenkins, president of The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade and Festivities Committee.
The committee is known for organizing Liberty City’s annual MLK Day parade. For 44 years, the event has remained the largest MLK Day celebration in Miami-Dade.
In years past, a performance stage was set up on the corner of 54th Street and 19th Avenue, but that site looks very different this year. It’s now being used for a memorial to people who have lost their lives to the virus.
With this in mind, Jenkins said, “What we’re doing is making sure we bring some light out of this darkness.”
This year’s parade will be prerecorded for broadcast on TV, similar to what was done for the 2020 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Performers include members of UniverSoul Circus, The Caribbean Dancers and more. Jenkins also said the parade floats will be more colorful than ever.
“Everyone’s really stepped up. There are a lot of components to making something like this happen, so I can’t thank my team enough,” she said when asked about how difficult it was to organize the virtual parade.
Every organization hosting events has had to adapt. However, the concept of change is a fitting one, according to some.
“Martin Luther King, Jr.’s thoughts on developing new attitudes and responses during a period of social change come to mind during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Florida Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson.
Wilson is the founder of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, a mentorship and scholarship program dedicated to guiding male minority students through K-12 and college. The program’s scholarship recipients are usually announced at the organization’s annual MLK Day Scholarship Breakfast. However, this year the breakfast is another one of the events being held online.
There are also a few socially distanced options available to mark the day.
West Perrine’s Community Development Corporation is hosting a drive-in family festival. Free food, raffles and a special presentation of highlights from King's life will honor the civil rights leader's legacy. The City of Miami Gardens will be hosting two community clean-up days if you’d like to honor King’s memory through service, and there’s a full slate of virtual and socially distanced events taking place as well. (See 'Next'.)
MLK Day will not be the same this year, but there are still many ways we can remember King’s life and keep his message alive.
How to celebrate MLK Day in Miami-Dade
• 44th Annual Liberty City MLK Day Parade, hosted by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade and Festivities Committee and Miami-Dade County, will include performances by the UniverSoul Circus, The Caribbean Dancers, and local dance and music groups. The event will be broadcast on Monday, Jan. 18, at 1 p.m. on WPLG local Channel 10.
• Miami Gardens MLK Day Virtual Celebration, hosted by the City of Miami Gardens and livestreamed on Facebook Live (facebook.com/miamigardensfl), will present music, tributes and reflections on Monday, Jan. 18. at 1 p.m.
• Florida International University 30th Annual MLK Celebration, hosted by the school’s Office of Multicultural Programs and Services and broadcast on Zoom, features King’s daughter, Bernice A. King, discussing her father’s legacy and teachings. Thursday, Jan. 14 at 10 a.m.; register on eventbrite.com by searching for “FIU MLK Celebration.” Free for K-12 and college students; $20 for other community members.
• Voices of Freedom: An Arsht Center Tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., hosted by the Arsht and the City of Miami Beach, presents live music and spoken word performances. Directed by local filmmaker M. Denise Simmons, the free event will feature artists’ reflections on King’s principles of nonviolence. Performers include singer-songwriters Kaylan Arnold and Sherretta Ivey, poet Darius Daughtry, Miami Sound Choir and children's chorus The Children's Voice. Speakers include Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber and Johann Zietsman, Arsht president and CEO. The event will be hosted by HOT 105’s Traci Cloyd. Saturday, Jan. 16, at 7 p.m., streaming live on Zoom and YouTube; register for the Zoom webinar at arshtcenter.org or tune into YouTube at youtube.com/arshtcenter.
• 5000 Role Models 28th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Breakfast, hosted by Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson and 5000 Role Models, will honor and present awards to the Wilson Scholars, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump and other prominent figures in the Black American community. The invitation-only event will take place on Monday, Jan. 18, at 9 a.m. A recap will be available post-event on 5000rolemodels.com.
Socially distanced events
• Miami Gardens MLK Day of Service, hosted by Miami Gardens council members Katrina Wilson and Robert Stephens, is actually a two-day event meant to clean up and beautify the community. Masks, gloves and lunch provided to volunteers. Saturday, Jan. 16, at 8 a.m., starting at the Betty T. Ferguson Recreational Complex, 3000 NW 199th St., Miami Gardens; and Monday, Jan. 18, at 10 a.m., starting at Scott Park, 17710 NW 15th Court, Miami Gardens.
• West Perrine 40th Annual Drive-In Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration, hosted by the West Perrine Community Development Corporation, features free food, raffles, performances and a movie presentation of highlights from Dr. King’s life. HOT 105’s Rodney Baltimore will emcee the event and will be joined by performers including the Ladies of Soul, Old Skool Gang and Gia Songbird Wyre. Saturday, Jan. 16, at 6 p.m., at Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church, 10701 SW 184th St., Perrine.
• MLK Holiday Art Contest and Exhibition, hosted by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade and Festivities Committee in partnership with Miami-Dade County, is an art contest for students aged 16 and older, presenting works inspired by the legacy and dreams of King. Submissions will be exhibited and freely open to the public for viewing for one month; they include paintings, drawings, photography, music and other mixed media art forms. Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Jan. 18 through Feb. 22 at Metro 1 Gallery, 224 NE 59th St., Miami.