COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations looked different on Monday due to COVID-19, with the South Carolina NAACP holding its 21st Annual King Day at the Dome virtually.
However, South Carolina’s leaders who spoke at the event stressed that, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and the social and political unrest that’s swept the nation this year, it’s more important than ever to remember Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and legacy.
“I would hope as you celebrate this day, you would rededicate yourself to what King stood for and that was a life of service and commitment to and on behalf of others,” U.S. House of Representatives Majority Whip James E. Clyburn.
South Carolina leaders including Rep. Clyburn, Mayor Steve Benjamin, State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell, and South Carolina Representative Patricia Moore spoke during the virtual event, along with other leaders in the community.
Normally, thousands of people participate in King Day at the Dome at the South Carolina State House on MLK Day to celebrate the life of Dr. King and his legacy of peacefully fighting for civil rights, equality, and social justice.
During Monday’s virtual event the speakers discussed healthcare, economic sustainability, education, and civil and youth engagement. This year’s theme for the event was “Where do we go from here?” It’s also the name of Martin Luther King Jr’s final book: “Where do we go from here: Chaos or community?”
“King wrote in his very last book entitled, ‘Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?’ He talked about why we can’t wait,” Clyburn said.
Speakers during Monday’s event said the title was fitting after a year in which the pandemic, the social and political unrest over the last year, and the economic uncertainty has left many wondering how to move forward.
“The greatest pandemic we’ve seen since 1918, the greatest economic disruption certainly in an election year since 1932, and the greatest social unrest because of systemic racism and police violence since 1969 all wrapped up into one year,” Benjamin said.
Bell stressed that the pandemic has shed light on vast health disparities that need to be addressed moving forward.
“One thing that COVID-19 has brought to light is the vast health disparities that exist in our state and in our nation,” Bell said. “Going forward once we overcome COVID-19, and together we eventually will, it’s important to confront some of those disparities that make some of us more vulnerable than others. We must do this first because it’s the right thing to do and second because if our brothers and sisters are not healthy and whole, then we collectively are not healthy and whole.”
The CEO of the Columbia Urban League, as well as other speakers, stressed the importance of education and making sure young people are part of the conversation.
The South Carolina NAACP started King Day at the Dome in 2000. It was in reaction to lawmakers keeping the Confederate flag on top of the State House.
Although this year looked different without the thousands of people being able to attend the usual in-person celebration. the message was still the same: a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his life of service.