SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. — This year's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day will look different in Spokane. Typically, local activists hold a march through downtown Spokane to honor the civil rights leader, but the pandemic has caused celebrations to go online.
MLK Jr. is one of the most influential voices in the American civil rights movement, with marches taking place all across the United States to honor his life and legacy.
"It's kind of troubling to not be able to go out there and do what we've been used to doing," activist Kurtis Robinson said regarding the cancellation of the annual MLK Day Unite Rally and Resource Fair.
Robinson is the executive director of I Did The Time, a nonprofit organization that supports individuals and families who are working to overcome barriers associated with past offenses with political advocacy. He is also the current vice president of the Spokane chapter of NAACP and is a member of the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council.
The events are canceled this year due to the pandemic. Robinson said there is no right answer of how people can move forward without the march and what this means to the Black, Indigenous, and people of color, or BIPOC, community.
"How do we how do we become more driven instead of more discouraged by something that's been his historically occurring anyway?" he asked, noting that the Black community has faced many challenges. "So why would we let that derail us now?"
The pandemic has altered the way we celebrate, but Spokane's MLK Family Outreach Center and the NAACP have created events for people to attend virtually.
Council Member Betsy Wilkerson along with City staff is hosted a virtual "talk back" discussion in honor of the legacy of Dr. King.
The virtual event provided dialogue between panelists and community members surrounding the work and call for unity by Doctor King.
"If we are to be together then we have to work together," Councilwoman Wilkerson said. "We know working against each other gets us nowhere, history has proven that to us already."
She drew a parallel between 1963 when she was 7, and now. She said racism happens everywhere, and we not only need to work together, but we need to be actively anti-racist.
"This is 'Spokane Nice,' because nobody really wants to talk about the challenges that we face," she added. "But until we face them, we can't change them."
She urged the Spokane community to come together to make the city a better place because everyone is connected.
"We're here to do the work, but we need you to help us get the work done," she said. "I'm inviting everybody out there that wants to be part to come along with me."
For individuals to help make a difference, food drives and fundraisers were held by the MLK Center, but they are also encouraging people to participate in a 5K virtual race.
From Jan. 14 through the 19, the center will be providing canvasses for people to paint on. If you return your painting by Feb 25, it will be put on display inside. Their theme is diversity equity and inclusion or you could paint a portrait of Dr. King.
Their lasting legacy campaign celebrates the day of service that celebrates the civil rights leader's life. They are asking for donations of $26 or more and their goal is $25,000.
"We've all got a lot of work to do," Robinson added. "I believe that our human family is at the point where we can no longer ignore urgent need for that [work]."
He said standing with Black leaders and listening to their voices is the first step allies can take to help against racial injustice.