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Life and Religion

The Queen City celebrates King Day
Annual celebration has grown through the years
Published Thursday, January 16, 2014
by Michaela L. Duckett

A family attends last year's King Day Parade in Charlotte. This year over 15,000 people are expected to attend the event, which has grown to become one of the largest King Day parades in the state.

It’s been 31 years since President Ronald Reagan signed the national observance of Martin Luther King Day into law. However, the holiday, which falls on the third Monday of January, was not officially observed in all 50 states until 2000.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg has been honoring King’s legacy since before MLK Day became official. The first celebration was held in 1979, and consisted of a memorial service and wreath laying at the King statue in Marshall Park.

While the memorial service is still a part of how the Queen City commemorates the holiday, the celebration has grown considerably in three decades.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee works intermittently throughout the year to assist local volunteers organize activities that honor and advance the civil rights causes championed by King.

The committee reports that over the years the number of residents attending events has steadily grown. CRC estimates that 3,000 people participated in 1979. This year, over 15,000 people are expected to take part in local MLK festivities.

King Day traditions

In the early 1980s, the city began sponsoring an annual MLK Day Parade, which has since grown to become one of the largest in the state with more than 90 community organizations, marching bands and step and drill teams participating.

This year’s parade will be held Saturday. Highlights include floats with the student winners of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ MLK art and writing contests, “America’s Got Talent” quarter finalist Inspire the Fire and The Band, an award-winning marching unit from Baltimore.

Other annual traditions include the city’s National Day of Service and MLK Prayer Breakfast, which began 20 years ago at the McCrorey Family YMCA.

Until last year, the Prayer Breakfast and National Day of Celebration were held as separate events. Now they are presented together.

“We did it in a way to streamline and keep our financial collateral down,” said Terry Bradley, who has been a member of the CRC since 2000. “We were doing very similar events so we found a way to collaborate on those two events… It’s our way of doing once event and reaching more of a diverse crowd.”

Approximately 200 people attended the first breakfast. This year, attendance is expected to exceed 1,000.

Bradley emphasized that although the event is attended mostly by African Americans, its aim is to attract the entire community.

“This is not just an African American event,” he said. “It’s a diverse event. Everyone is welcome to participate.”

This year’s breakfast will be held Jan. 20 in the Crown Ballroom of the Charlotte Convention Center. Author and actor Hill Harper will be the keynote speaker.

A day on, not a day off

Instead of viewing the national holiday as just a day off from work, many Americans have used it as an opportunity to spend time working to better their communities.

King once said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'"

As such, Americans across the country have come to answer that question and honor King’s holiday by working together in service to their neighbors and communities.

President Barack Obama has lead the call in promoting MLK Day as a National Day of Service as part of his United We Serve initiative.

Last year, when Obama’s second presidential inauguration fell on the MLK holiday, there was surge in participation, which, according to the White House, resulted in 1.3 million hours of service pledged by volunteers across the country and 194,875 pounds of food served or donated to help those in need. The White House estimates that during last year’s Day of Service, 86,605 individuals received emergency food, 43,103 individuals received assistance in alleviating long-term hunger and 9,315 economically disadvantaged individuals received financial literacy services.

For more information on how to get involved in service projects around the community, visit www.HandsOnCharlotte.org for listings of local volunteer opportunities that could use some additional helping hands.



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Posted on January 16, 2014

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