JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Johnson City’s annual slate of activities honoring the life of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. will focus on youth under the theme “Love Your Neighbor,” with a Saturday carryout breakfast at Carver Recreation Center kicking off the events.

Retired educator Vincent Dial pastors Bethel Christian Church in Jonesborough and has been involved in annual MLK activities for more than two decades. He is coordinating a combined virtual worship service that begins at 6 p.m. Sunday and can be accessed by visiting the Johnson City-Washington County NAACP website.

“It’s a very important part of the community here in Johnson City and of the extended community,” Dial said of the weekends, which feature everything from prayer breakfasts and joint worship services to unity walks, storytimes for youth and blood drives.

Bethel Christian Church Pastor Vincent M. Dial has been involved in the greater Johnson City MLK activities for more than two decades.

The last two years have presented difficulties due to COVID-19, but Dial said the community has innovated and kept the tradition alive. Much of this year’s activity is virtual or avoids large gatherings due to the spread of the Omicron variant.

“That’s the blessing; we can do it by remote,” Dial said. “If we didn’t have these technologies that we have, these events would fall to a mute time when nobody would hear them because we had no way of broadcasting.”

For the second straight year, News Channel 11 is partnering with the MLK Committee to create a virtual replica of the standard MLK Prayer Breakfast and stream the event on WJHL.com and WJHL’s Facebook page. That event will air at 7 p.m. on Jan. 17 and focus on youth – including a keynote address by Science Hill High School senior Taylor Dixon, likely the youngest keynote speaker in the 20-plus years the event has been held.

“It’s critical that our young people understand the history of this country, who the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was and other civil rights workers as well,” Dial said. “I think it will give them a sense of pride in knowing that they live in a country where freedom, it was not always free, but because of the Civil Rights Movement they can now do so many of the things that they do.”

News Channel 11 Sports Director Kenny Hawkins will emcee Monday’s virtual event.

Dial said getting young people excited and involved can help further build on King’s legacy of unity in a time when plenty of important issues King would have spoken out about still confront society.

“I think one of the most important things is we understand what democracy is, what it means and how we should go about it, and how we should really embrace democracy,” Dial said. “I think this will help us continue in the right direction and far as making America the America that it can be.”

Other planned events — all at or starting at Carver Recreation Center — include MLK Story Time from 9 a.m. to noon Jan. 17; a blood drive from 1-6 p.m. Jan. 17; and a carryout dinner from 5-7 p.m. Jan. 17.

All the events are listed here: