“One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal.” Martin Luther King Jr.’s words of understanding, compassion, equality and justice might seem like lofty goals today, still, but hundreds continue to march toward it today, in his memory and for the greater good of humanity. In celebration and commemoriation, MLK Day is celebrated annually, and most notably with parades nationwide. This year MLK Day is January 21, with the downtown Wilmington parade beginning at 11 a.m. and taking place along Third and Fourth streets.
“The first [Martin Luther King] parade I attended was in 1986 when Dr. King’s birthday became a holiday in the state of Georgia,” parade organizer Hollis Briggs remembers. “I took my kids so they could experience history in the making. I was speechless by all the floats and marching bands that participated.”
At his first event in the Port City, Briggs was charged with putting all of the barricades together and making sure the bleachers were in the correct location. Briggs will be organizing this week’s series of events for the 17th year, as part of the local MLK Celebration Committee of Southeastern North Carolina. The parade, in fact, is far from the only celebration Briggs and company have planned.
YWCA Lower Cape Fear’s Potluck For Peace on January 17 is the first one of the year and addresses “Adverse Community Experiences: Reducing community trauma and creating better race relations.” Led by Kenny House, vice-president of Clinical Services, Coastal Horizons Center, folks are invited to bring a main dish, side or dessert to share with six to 10 people. YWCA will provide beverages and paper products.
“The potluck [is] a way for the YWCA to showcase their mission of empowering women and eliminating racism,” Briggs explains. “It fits so well into what our goal for the celebration is.”
After outgrowing the Hannah Block Community Center for the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Banquet, they’ve moved to Hotel Ballast. Inspired by the Negro National Anthem, this year they’ll serve a “Stoney the road we trod” themed dinner on January 18, alongside special guests Andrew George and Amanda Fitzpatrick of WWAY. They are still finalizing the menu, but each $60 seat will help fund next year’s MLK celebration.
“The Family Fun Day [on January 19] is an activity for kids to make sure we attract them to get involved in the celebration,” Briggs continues. The Wilmington Police Department will land their SABLE helicopter at the William E. Murphy Athletic Complex. Other special guests will make an appearance throughout the day.
The grand marshals for January 21’s MLK Parade include North Carolina’s 2018 Principal of the Year Tabari Wallace of West Craven High School in Craven County, as well as 2018 Teacher of the Year Freebird McKinney from Cary. They’ll help usher in marching bands and guests across Southeastern NC, from Smithfield to Durham.
“There will be lots of civic [groups], churches, businesses and local public officials,” Briggs offers. “Every year new groups show interest in the festivities and we are grateful for their participation.”
Around 130 floats, cars and units of marchers will be lined up. Among many first-timers will be the newly reorganized Coastal Carolina Returned Peace Corps Volunteers group. Interim CCRPCV president Kevina Casaletto says Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight for peace with peace directly aligns with Peace Corps’ mission to promote world peace and friendship.
“As RPCVs, we strive to continue that mission in our local communities,” says Casaletto, who likens John F. Kennedy’s vision for the Peace Corps in 1961 (and his famous “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”) to King’s.
“In 1957, Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?’” she recites. “Martin Luther King Jr. and JFK were both visionaries who saw a kinder, more peaceful America, and the need for a world where we have learned to walk as brother and sister. MLK Day is a time to celebrate how far we have come, but also a call to action as we see how far there is yet to go.”
While Casaletto expects about 20 RPCVs and their families to march on Monday, participation in the MLK Parade is important for groups like CCRPCV because it is an opportunity to “show up” for the community. As well, she says Dr. King’s legacy continues to be increasingly paramount, urgent and relevant as it were decades ago.
“It is especially important in our exceedingly turbulent social climate that we come together as a community and continue to work toward freedom and justice for all,” Casaletto continues. “This parade is one way the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers can support and march with our community in celebration and peace. Having watched the parade with my children for many years it is an honor to participate in the parade as part of the CCRPCV.”
Find a full MLK celebration event schedule at mlkjrcelebration-senc10.com.
Potluck for Peace
January 17, 6 p.m.
Martin Luther King Center
401 S. 8th St.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Banquet
January 18, 6:30 p.m.
Hotel Ballast Wilmington
301 N Water St.
NAACP Annual MLK Breakfast
January 19, 9 a.m.
Wilmington Shrine Club
4510 S. College Rd.
Family Fun Day 2019
January 19, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
William E Murphy Athletic Complex
401 S. 8th St.
MLK Gospel Concert
featuring Pastor John P. Kee
January 19, 3:30 p.m.
UNCW Kenan Auditorium
601 S. College Rd.
HBCU Band Showcase
January 20, 3:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Williston Middle School
401 S. 10th St.
MLK Day Parade
January 21, 11 a.m.
Third St. from Hanover and Princess