For many years, a group of District residents and leaders of city organizations led by Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes, have met to plan activities and a parade celebrating the federal holiday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on the thoroughfare that bears his name in southeast Washington.
However, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the District had many members of the Martin Luther King Holiday DC committee strongly considering suspending or significantly scaling down the events. As a result, the group decided in September to proceed with King holiday activities but out of concern for safety, they decided to make the events mainly virtual.
Doing this event virtually is a lot more difficult than doing it live,” Stuart Anderson, co-chair of the committee, said on Washington Informer News Television on Jan. 15. “To put it on, we had to focus on in a whole different manner but we did it.”
In 1977, Dr. Calvin W. Rolark, Denise’s father and founder of the Washington Informer, along with his wife, then D.C. Council member Wilhelmina Rolark and Ralph “Petey” Greene, a media personality and community activist, conceived the parade honoring King. The parade formally launched in 1979, with the District being one of the first jurisdictions to honor King in such a manner.
Throughout the years, the event has evolved from a single parade to an essay contest for youth, prayer breakfast, community forums, health fairs, community service projects and religious ceremonies. This year, the essay contest, prayer breakfast, community forum, church service took place via Zoom, while the community cleanup occurred with volunteers on site wearing masks and practicing social distancing and the parade took place on a virtual platform on YouTube, Facebook Live and Washington Informer’s Facebook page.
The phrase, “2021: Now is the Time…” served as the overall theme for the series of events. The actual parade activities occurred on Jan. 18.
In lieu of the live parade, the King holiday committee decided to have a community cleanup at Shepherd Parkway, which starts in the east at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE and Malcolm X Avenue SE. About 30 people participated in the community cleanup that transpired.
Martha’s Table, a local social service organization, had workers handing out food bags consisting of fruit and vegetables under two tents. Matt Miller, the community activator for Martha’s Table, said when the leaders of his organization heard about the changes in the King holiday activities due to the pandemic, that didn’t lessen their commitment to events.
“We decided to have a presence here at Shepherd Park because this is a community service project and we are here to serve the community,” he said.
The Anacostia Coordinating Council also had a table handing our face masks, hand sanitizers and snacks.
Eight members of the District’s chapter of the Chi Eta Phi, a professional organization of registered nurses and nursing students, attended the cleanup. Chi Eta Phi member Shakyra Rivers said her group came to the clean- up to give back to the community.
“We want people to know nurses work outside of the hospital too,” she said. “We are in the community and we want to help.”
As a part of the cleanup program, volunteers handed out coats and clothing items outside of the Washington Informer offices and in the parking lot in Anacostia that includes the Big Chair.
THE VIRTUAL PARADE AND TV SHOW
The virtual parade consisted of Barnes, Greg Judge Poole and La Wan A. Taylor Thompson as commentators on Jan. 18. They observed footage from past parade and praised the grand marshals for this year: grocery store employee Giquota Smith, educators Ashley Kearney and Raphael Bonhomme, health care worker Veronica Parham-Dudley, District EMS’s James Bunn II, community activists Justin Johnson and Philip Pannell, historian Charles Hicks and entertainer Melvin Deal.
Youth orators Ethan Carmichael and Vaughn Biddix delivered speeches by King and Rep. John Lewis, respectively.
WJLA-TV Reporter Sam Ford and Barnes co-hosted an hourlong segment on the parade on Ford’s station that talked about King’s activities in local Washington, the King Memorial on the National Mall, the Martin Luther King Library renovation and included personalities such as D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Ben’s Chili Bowl owner Virginia Ali, civil rights leader Dr. E. Faye Williams and a segment of past parades by Merilyn C. Holmes of Total Sunshine.