Upcoming King holiday events go virtual, focus on creating just society

Bernice King shares #GirlDad tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.
Bernice King shares #GirlDad tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.

Since the nation last celebrated the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, it’s been “a year of extremes” that underscores the urgent need of creating the “Beloved Community” that the civil rights leader envisioned, his daughter said Monday.

That theme — building a just society with equal opportunity — is the focus of the upcoming remembrance, which marks what would have been King’s 92nd birthday.

“As I consider the inhumanity, injustice and indifference currently persisting in our world, particularly in the United States of America, I cannot imagine a more relevant and powerful way to commemorate my father’s birthday than with focus on the urgency of creating the Beloved Community,” said Bernice King. “Now, more than ever, we must turn our attention to fostering reconciliation, which includes truth and repentance, and also turn our attention to achieving true peace, which includes justice.”

Looming over this year’s events are the tense and contested presidential election and last week’s attacks on the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., where five people were killed.

This year’s commemoration will be quite different from past years — events will be held virtually. The coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted almost every aspect of life in 2020, continues to rage.

“A great part of me is sad, not being able to do some of the things we traditionally do in connecting with each other,” King told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It feels very awkward to me. But I thank God for the gift of technology that allows us to still do something that is meaningful and, in many ways, can be impactful. I don’t know what we would do without it.”

ExploreMore MLK 2021 Weekend events: Things to do this weekend in metro Atlanta

The annual religious ceremony, to be held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 18, can be viewed online. Speakers include newly elected U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and a keynote address by the Rev. T.D. Jakes.

The dinner, the 38-year-old crowning jewels of the weekend, will be replaced by the reimagined Beloved Community Awards, another virtual experience.

Also scheduled is an inaugural two-day Beloved Community Global Summit, sponsored by the King Center, the Carter Center, the Center for Civil and Human Rights and Points of Light.

“It is difficult to imagine a more important conversation right now than where do we go from here,” said Paige Alexander, CEO of the Carter Center. “And recent events have provided even more evidence that we have really not made much progress since Dr. King exhorted us to face and address the triple evils of racism, poverty and militarism.”

ExploreTake a virtual tour of MLK Jr's birth home in Atlanta and historic Ebenezer Baptist Church

The full schedule and full details of events, including all of the training sessions, teach-ins, celebrations and ceremonies, is located on the King Center’s website, but here are some of the highlights for the King Holiday Observance:

The events will stream on Facebook, Twitter and thekingcenter.org.

Tuesday: Virtual sessions on understanding and applying King’s philosophy of nonviolence.

Thursday and Friday: The virtual Beloved Community Global Summit. Participants will hear from national and international speakers who will discuss their vision and strategies for creating a more just, humane, equitable and peaceful world.

Friday: The Beloved Community Youth Global Summit for middle and high school students.

Saturday: The Beloved Community Awards, recognizing individuals and organizations that exemplify excellence in leadership and social justice. Honorees this year will include the Oprah Winfrey Network; philanthropist Charles F. Feeney; Black Lives Matter co-founders Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza; the National Council of Negro Women’s Johnetta B. Cole; educator Ron Clark; and pop superstar Lady Gaga.

Jan. 18: The 2021 Martin Luther King Jr. Beloved Community Commemorative Service, featuring Jakes and Warnock.

Following the service, there will be a King Family Wreath Laying on the campus of the King Center, honoring King Jr. and King Center Founder Coretta Scott King.

The annual parade and march through the city won’t take place this year

“We have marched in rain, sleet, snow and ice,” said Jamida Orange, the daughter of the late Rev. James Orange and the parade’s annual coordinator. “But we have never had to deal with a pandemic.”

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