Many of the top Houston events that mark Martin Luther King Jr.’s annual holiday go online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, including at least one of the city’s two major parades.
The move to a virtual event is a break with the tradition of the original Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade, which began in 1978 and was attended by around 20,000 people last year. This year, the parade leaders make the theme “Truth, Love and Justice” inspired by the ongoing reckoning on racism sparked by the murder of George Floyd.
“We must get through these times and come together as a community to support one another. Only then can we devote ourselves to the work of building a fairer world,” said Sylvester Brown, executive director of the Black Heritage Society, which co-organizes the event the city of Houston.
Although the event will not attend in person, the parade itself will include two hours of marching through local schools and organizations, including the University of Houston marching band and student groups from Booker T. Washington High School. The livestream will also include video from the opening parade and those from other years.
Houston has hosted Dueling MLK parades since 1995, the leaders of which have argued over permits, sponsorships, and participants. It was not immediately clear whether the other parade, known as the MLK Grande Parade, would be held in person, virtual, or canceled entirely. Grande Parade founder Charles Stamps could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, and the parade’s website did not provide details on the plans for this year’s holiday.
This year, Mayor Sylvester Turner and Judge Lina Hidalgo of Harris County will serve as Grand Marshals for the Original MLK Jr. Day Parade. It’s slated to start at 10 a.m. on Monday and broadcast from the parade’s Facebook page and the city’s live TV feed.
The event began 10 years after King was assassinated and featured King’s father as the first Grand Marshal.
Along with the virtual celebrations, parade leaders are organizing a “Giving Parade” on Monday to encourage Houstonians to donate to local charities. The city also hosted a food distribution event last year in place of its annual Thanksgiving Parade, which was canceled for the first time in its 71-year history.
Other organizations are also putting their annual MLK events online and adopting themes to reflect the renewed national focus on racism and racial justice. The Greater Houston Frontiers Club and KHOU 11 are jointly hosting the 33rd Annual Martin Luther King Scholarship Breakfast, a fundraiser for the nonprofit club that awards scholarships to high school graduates in Harris County.
The theme of this year’s breakfast is “Good Trouble: Marching for Education”, named after the signature of the US Representative John Lewis, who called on people to fight for civil rights. Lewis, who organized and marched with King in the 1960s, died last year at the age of 80.
Some organizers choose to cancel their annual events altogether instead of holding them virtually. One such event is the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at The Woodlands, organized by the Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation Committee of Montgomery County.
Cheryl Tyson, chair of the 2020 event, said the event, which can accommodate up to 1,000 people, was too risky during the pandemic. She said she was looking forward to having a bigger celebration in January 2022.
Meanwhile, Lucille’s 1913, the nonprofit branch of Lucille’s Southern Restaurant in the Museum District, announced that it is partnering with Fort Bend County to distribute 1,000 meals and 500 personal protective kits for food rides in Richmond and Rosenberg. The nonprofit plans to serve 1,000 more meals at Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Fifth Ward.
Fort Bend meals are distributed based on availability, while registration is required for the Fifth Ward Food Drive. More information is available at lucilles1913.org.
Ryan Nickerson and Sondra Hernandez contributed to this report.