SOUTHERN INDIANA — Community organizers in Clark and Floyd counties have canceled annual events commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Jan. 18 in light of the growing number of positive COVID-19 cases.

But while there will be no physical gatherings, representatives say there are plenty of other ways for the community to honor and respect King’s legacy on his birthday this year.

Clark County typically hosts a special breakfast event, followed by a march and caravan in which people carry signs and sing songs in the spirit of the peaceful civil rights movement King helped build and lead before his assassination in 1963.

But with the county nearing 10,000 COVID-19 cases and having been placed in the red zone last week on the Indiana State Department of Health map, committee chair Janice Leavell said the group had to make the tough decision to cancel the events this year.

“That was hard to do because we have so much support during the years; people really do support us and our efforts,” Leavell said. “But, for the good of the community and our health concerns — a lot of the people who do attend our events are older people — we thought it would be best to not put people at risk and cancel those physical activities for this year.”

New Albany also will not host its traditional MLK Day celebration this year because of the pandemic. The event is a partnership between local churches and the New Albany Parks Department.

“It’s just too dangerous,” said Kathy Wilkerson, recreation director for the New Albany Parks Department. “A lot of people who come to our events are elderly, and we just don’t want to take a chance.”

The city has approved recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday beginning in 2021. The city regularly has events related to Juneteenth, but Wilkerson said the plan is to have an even bigger celebration this June 19 because of the cancellation of the MLK Day program.

The city will post information on its social media pages about King.

“It’s a time to honor all of the things that he accomplished, but we still want everyone to be safe,” Wilkerson said.

Two aspects of the Jeffersonville events will continue this year “still trying to commemorate his legacy,” Leavell said.

On MLK Day, the 2021 Freedom and Justice Awards will be presented to Pamela Clark, Minority Health Initiative director at Community Action of Southern Indiana, and Dr. Eric Yazel, Clark County Health Director and Emergency Room Doctor.

“This award is for their contribution in the area of human rights for their continuing efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in Clark County,” Leavell said in an email.

Donations are still being accepted for the 2021 King Scholarships and the winners will receive their awards at their school Honors Day later this year.

Leavell said that to honor King community members can donate their time or resources to organizations that help those in need, such as the Center for Lay Ministries in Jeffersonville, a soup kitchen or Dare to Care.

“And if not [on] Martin Luther King Day, people can just resolve in their minds that they would do more volunteer work in his name,” she said, adding that the need is likely to increase.

“It’s going to get worse because people are out of work, people are going to need food,” she said. “People are really hurting. People forget that not only do people need food, they need detergent, they need deodorant, all that stuff you don’t think about that are luxuries to some people.”

“There’s a lot of ways that people can give in the name of Dr. Martin Luther King — meditate on it, go to the library and get one of his books, research his words. People can read Dr. King’s speech from the March on Washington but there’s so much more.

“Think about where you are, who you are and what you want to accomplish. What would you like to accomplish in the name of Dr. King in this nation’s history?”

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