Naples’ popular Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade won’t happen for a second year in a row, organizers say. Instead, the 25th annual parade has been replaced with a virtual event featuring guest speakers and performances.
Meanwhile, organizers of Fort Myers’ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day March and Celebration say they’re taking to the streets once again.
“The march will continue,” says Martin Byrd, president of the event’s organizers, the Dunbar Festival Committee. “We didn’t do it last year, but we’ll continue the march this year.”
Organizers for both events weighed the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Southwest Florida and came to two different decisions.
Vincent Keeys — president of Naples parade organizers NAACP Collier County — says they were concerned about liability as COVID cases increase. “It’s running rampant.”
The national office of the NAACP has mandated virtual celebrations for all its branches.
It wasn’t an easy decision to cancel the 25th anniversary parade, Keeys says. He calls the event a “day of solidarity” where people of different backgrounds come together and mark the occasion.
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“They set aside all their differences … to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his work,” he says. “It’s huge. It is so well-received by the community.”
The Naples parade features more people than the Fort Myers march, though. About 200-300 people usually take part in the march, Byrd says. But the Naples parade features about 2,000, including marching bands, floats and first responders, Keeys says. That doesn’t include the thousands of people who show up to watch both events.
In Fort Myers, that smaller number gives people more room to socially distance at both the march and the annual celebration that follows Centennial Park, Byrd says.
“We don’t expect a huge crowd, hopefully, because people are afraid of omicron or whatever else is out there in the atmosphere,” Byrd says. “We’re outside in a park, so you’re able to create some … distance if you need to.”
Byrd says he expects people to be responsible and to stay home if they’re sick. Masks will be encouraged and made available to everyone, he added.
The annual event is too important to the community to cancel for another year, Byrd says.
“It’s to kind of get back to some normality,” he says. “That’s been the biggest issue of the pandemic is the disconnect. We’re already a virtual society, and the pandemic distances us even more in places that we typically fellowship.
“It’s big in the culture of the community and the city, and it needs to happen in some way or the other.”
The annual parades are Southwest Florida traditions stretching back for decades. They’d never been canceled before until 2021, organizers said last year.
Here are some of the top events happening on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Southwest Florida:
“Dreams and Inspirations” Martin Luther King Day event: Edison Mall celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day early with speakers who have been inspired by King, vendors, food trucks and more. Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 15. Free. The outdoor event takes place in the parking lot between JCPenney and Monarca’s, Edison Mall, 4125 Cleveland Ave., Fort Myers. facebook.com/EdisonMall
25th Remembrance of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: This virtual celebration replaces the 25th annual Naples MLK Day Parade. It features performances, local dignitaries and photos and audio of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. The event’s theme is a quote attributed to King: “We must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future.” 11 a.m. to noon Monday, Jan. 17. Free. naacpcolliercounty.org or
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day March and Celebration: The annual march starts at the Dunbar Jupiter Hammon Library at High and Blount streets. It travels along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and through downtown Fort Myers to Centennial Park, where a festival takes place until 6 p.m. The fest includes music, food, vendors and entertainment. Coolers, food, grills, alcohol or pets aren’t allowed. Parade starts at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Jan. 17, and arrives at the park around 11:30 a.m. Free. Downtown Fort Myers. 603-4131 or facebook.com/dunbarfestivalcommitteeinc
Free MLK Day Family Art Project: This workshop lets participants of all ages decorate a tote bag by cutting and gluing fabric and attaching them to bag like a quilt. Participants are encouraged to research and learn about a contemporary Black artist, photographer, musician, or someone in their community who is working for positive change. Noon to 2 p.m. Monday, Jan. 17. Free. Registration required. Alliance for the Arts, 10091 McGregor Blvd. Fort Myers. 939-2787 or ArtInLee.org/Dreaming
If you’re unvaccinated, the CDC recommends wearing a face mask, avoiding mass gatherings and staying at least 6 feet from others. Vaccinated people are also advised to wear masks in public, indoor places in states where COVID cases are surging.
People generally don’t need to wear masks in outdoor settings, the CDC says, but they should consider a mask in “crowded outdoor settings and for activities with close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated.”
For more CDC guidelines, visit bit.ly/3fohmDC.
Connect with this reporter: Charles Runnells is an arts and entertainment reporter for The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. Email him at [email protected] or connect on Facebook (facebook.com/charles.runnells.7), Twitter (@charlesrunnells) and Instagram (@crunnells1).