Regional MLK Jr. Day events hosted online amid pandemic


Tenn. (WJHL) – The past year was difficult in regards to the challenges posed by the Coronavirus pandemic. One of those challenges included planning and carrying out annual events and celebrations.

Many events have either been forced to alter the way they put on their productions or cancel altogether. This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, canceling was not an option as many area organizations went forward with their celebrations by moving them online.

The MLK Day parade in Kingsport has been a tradition for 21 years, but three weeks ago, organizers made the hard decision to move from in-person attendance to an online video following a case spike in Sullivan County.

While it was a difficult decision, the organizer and director of the Tennessee/Virginia Fellowship Against Racism (TVFAR), Bishop Ronnie Wayne Collins, said it was the right one.

“It was a very unique opportunity. It’s not something you do very lightly or simply, but whatever is necessary for the safety of people, we’ll do it,” said Collins.

Collins said even though it’s not the same, this year is arguably better since they treated it as an anniversary special. Seeing as the parade couldn’t happen in-person, photos and videos from the past 20 years made up Monday’s online “parade”, showing a glimpse into the past and truly celebrating history.

After watching the completed video for the first time, Collins described it as a magical experience. “I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was shaking, I was excited, overjoyed, I wanted to cry… it’s actually something everybody can enjoy,” he said.

The best part about the parade is the fact that anyone can still view it after the fact on Collins’ Youtube page. He said the video perfectly embodied this year’s theme of the past and where they go from here.

Other area events also moved online. The city of Bristol hosted an online MLK Day celebration as well as events in Abingdon, Johnson City, and area universities.

In Jonesborough, The McKinney Center’s regular programming for the day also had to move online. Skye McFarland, the Community Program Specialist at The McKinney Center, said they made the decision to move the event online in mid-December.

“Moving forward you’ve just got to choose that safest option and we just felt like there’s no reason people need to be in a building to feel the same experience,” said McFarland.

On occasion, she said they pair a service project with the event and this year was the perfect year for one. Due to the challenges posed by the virus, officials with the center decided to host a food donation drive with everything collected going to the local food pantry.

The month-long drive began in December and ended on the MLK holiday with over 600 pounds of food and some additional cash donations collected.

While McFarland hopes the return to safe in-person gatherings is not far away, she does believe that live streaming will stick around after this pandemic.

“It’s great for people who don’t feel like they can get out of the house, maybe it’s too cold today and they don’t want to get out of the house. I think we’re definitely going to have a lot more of this built-in online presence for a lot of our events,” she said.

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