COVID surge forces delay on newly expanded MLK Day event lineup

On Monday, Jan. 17, the nation celebrates the life and accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr. And in Baton Rouge, the occasion is seeing an expansion. The former day-long event will now be a series of gatherings and service projects spanning several days. It’s meant to encourage awareness about issues like literacy, youth empowerment and equity and justice, says Mayor Sharon Weston Broome.

“This year’s theme, ‘Walking In Legacy,’ recognizes and celebrates Baton Rouge’s past and present work for social justice, while preparing for the future of African American progress, right here in the Capital City,” Broome says in a statement. “This collaboration will create an on-going united celebration for the entire parish, setting aside an extended time to honor Dr. King’s legacy of leadership, collaboration, progress, and service.”

On the schedule: a virtual church service; an art exhibit; a prayer breakfast; and several community service projects that include community clean-up, blight and litter removal, mentor training and mural painting. But while 2022 marks an expansion of events honoring MLK, many activities now won’t take place until February due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, according to the Mayor’s Office.

A virtual church service coordinated by Shiloh Baptist Church is still scheduled for Monday, Jan. 17 at 9 a.m., as are the annual Day of Service coordinated by LSU, and an exhibition at the new Cary Saurage Community Arts Center. However, other events have been moved to Feb. 16-20 and will be celebrated in conjunction with Black History Month, according to Mayor’s Office representative Raina Vallot, who is coordinating the events.

The February schedule includes a Unity Prayer Breakfast at L’Auberge Casino and Hotel with the Gamma Eta Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., as well as a series of service projects around Baton Rouge. Big Buddy will also offer mentor training and service opportunities. And, a community festival and additional service opportunities will be held along with the Krewe of Oshun Mardi Gras parade in north Baton Rouge.

The Walls Project’s MLK Fest. File photo

Once again, the Walls Project will install murals with volunteer help in honor of MLK Day at the Jewel J. Newman and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. community centers, says Walls Project director of marketing Helena Williams. The organization is a longtime partner in MLK Day service projects and helped create several nearly 20 murals along Scenic Highway for the event in 2019.

“It’s something that we’ve done for awhile now,” Williams says. “Across the city, we’re now on our 126th mural.”

This year, Williams says, artists are coming up with designs that fit the celebration’s theme and that also incorporate the history of the specific neighborhood in which the murals will be installed. The Walls Project will also work with the Mid City Redevelopment Alliance on a community clean-up of the former Osage Street Fire Station.

For more information, or to register for events, visit mlkholidaybr.com.