For Martin Luther King Day, Spokane’s organizers are adjusting to the COVID-19 surge to allow for safe celebrations

With the rise of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, in-person events that were once considered safe by vaccines and negative tests are being virtually postponed or canceled, including – in its second year – Spokane’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day March.

For MLK Day, local organizations founded in King’s honor, such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center, hope people will find a way to pay tribute to King’s legacy.

“We always want people to be able to continue writing the life and legacy of Dr. King through various service projects, ”said Freda Gandy, Executive Director of the MLK Center in the East Central Neighborhood.

The annual Spokane March usually ends at the Spokane Convention Center with the now retired New Hope Baptist pastor, Rev. Percy “Happy” Watkins reciting King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Rev. James Watkins, the current pastor of New Hope, takes pride in his childhood memories and remembers his father who worked during the ghost hours and waited for the Watkins children to fall asleep to perfect the speech.

“I thought he had to screw it up at least once, I’ve heard that speech at least a hundred, maybe a thousand times,” said the younger Watkins. “Not even.”

But as a lifelong Spokane resident, Watkins always admired how the MLK Day events would bring the city together in the name of King’s legacy of unity and equality.

“It was really a time to unite and to celebrate where we are from and to have a word on where we need to go,” Watkins said of the usual local MLK day events. “So this time of year is almost magical. When you go on the marches, you can see that everyone is enjoying themselves, everyone in a brotherhood, a sisterhood together. “

For Gandy, feelings like Watkins’ are the reason the festivities must go on for sure.

“We posted some ideas on our Facebook page and website about how people can still serve even though we’re not getting together,” she said.

Service projects range from the ongoing grocery campaign to monetary donations. The MLK Service Center is asking for donations of brown rice, wheat bread and pasta.

Donations can be made until January 31st from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the MLK center. During the last nine weeks of winter, in times of the pandemic, there is also the opportunity to collect donations for the winter packages that the center is putting together. The MLK center is asking for oral hygiene items, disposable face masks, adult size socks and hats for those in need.

As January is also national book month, Gandy asks MLK Day observers to donate various children’s books for the centre’s preschool class. The annual walk has turned into a virtual 5K Run for Justice.

“This is entirely at your leisure,” said Gandy. “You can walk or run whatever you want in your own neighborhood, your local gym, or on the treadmill.”

Patrons can also donate to the Lasting Legacy Campaign. This year’s donations go to the board of the MLK center. The goal is to raise $ 25,000. The center is soliciting donations of $ 27 or more as 2022 marks the 27th anniversary of the celebrations.

With these safer events as an alternative to personal communion, Gandy wanted to emphasize that celebrating King’s life and mission for equality doesn’t have to happen just on the third Monday in January.

“I want people to see that this advice center is out here 365 days a year,” said Gandy. “You can attend year round by volunteering here and participating in the various programs we offer the community. I also encourage people to work with us to make sure we are accountable for ensuring that our programs and services are inclusive of all people. “

The Pullman CORE organization will hold a personal march on Martin Luther King Day, in compliance with the security precautions. King’s family asked all groups that organize events in King’s honor to stand up for the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Both laws aim to ensure equal voting rights for all Americans, a backlash against election suppression laws passed in states like Georgia.

“In solidarity with the family of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. plans to host an event for Palouse CORE that will highlight the need to pass federal voting laws, ”the organization said in a press release. “(Martin Luther King III) has requested that instead of the usual day of worship to celebrate the life of his father, we gather and march to support the passage of the two voting laws that have now stalled in the US Senate.”

After the march, Rob and Carol Ndambuki, Jeff Guillory, former Equity Director at Washington State University and Pullman City Councilwoman Megan Guido will speak about the Freedom to Vote Act as well as King and his contribution to equality.