MLK Day Celebrations Continue Amid Pandemic

Arkansans are hosting a mix of virtual and in-person events across the state.

When John L. Colbert helped organize the Northwest Arkansas Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Council 25 years ago, he likely couldn’t have imagined planning the celebration during today’s pandemic environment. Colbert is in his second year as the council’s president and says when he thinks about the things King and other Civil Rights leaders had to endure, adapting this year’s celebration amid the public health crisis is “a piece of cake.”

“We still have the determination that we’re going to celebrate his life and legacy, but there’s going to be a lot of virtual meetings and virtual Zooming for us to do this celebration,” Colbert says.

A central part of the council’s focus has been its Recommitment Banquet. About 125 people attended and two $500 scholarships were awarded to students during the inaugural event. The banquet has since grown to include around 700 attendees and $30,000 in scholarships. Kevin Dedner, founder and CEO of Hurdle, is the keynote speaker at this year’s event, which will be virtual.

One part of the celebration that will have an in-person component is a food drive and community service project Jan. 16 at the St. James Missionary Baptist Church Food Pantry in Fayetteville.

“Dr. King believed in giving back. We too believe in giving back to help the community,” Colbert says.

Events are planned through Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan 18. The theme of the 25th anniversary celebration is “Unity: It is up to us to choose unity over division.”

“It’s time for this country to come together because we’re better than what we’ve been seeing lately,” Colbert says. “The division, that is not America. That is not us. That is not what Dr. King would have been asking us to do. He preached unity, coming together.”

While some annual MLK celebrations have been cancelled this year because of the pandemic, there are a number of events planned today through Monday across the state. Here are some of them:


Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission

2021 King Holiday Day of Impact Virtual Celebration

11:59 a.m. Jan. 15

Premiering on Facebook and other virtual platforms on Dr. King’s birthday, this two-hour event will feature guest appearances by Governor Asa Hutchinson, Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, Senator Joyce Elliott and more. 


City of Pine Bluff

MLK Service Day Pine Bluff Community Cleanup

8 a.m. to noon

Volunteers should meet at Good Faith Carr United Methodist at 8 a.m. Supplies and cleanup assignments will be provided. Volunteers must provide their own transportation to cleanup sites throughout the city. To protect against COVID-19, public health protocols will be implemented including social distancing and mask wearing. 


Northwest Arkansas Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Council

Food Drive and Community Service Project 

9 a.m. to noon Jan. 16

Volunteers can sign up to work at the food pantry at St. James Missionary Baptist Church, which is located at 115 S. Willow St. in Fayetteville, Ark.  

Food donations will be accepted through Jan. 22. Items can be delivered from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays.  

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Virtual Memorial Service 

3 p.m. Jan. 17

Reginald K. Murdock Sr., State Representative for  District 48 will be the guest speaker for this virtual event.

MLK Dream Keepers’ Virtual Youth Breakfast 

8 a.m. Jan. 18

MLK Dream Keepers’ Youth Engagement Program 

9:30 a.m. Jan. 18

MLK Holiday Virtual Freedom March

11:15 a.m. Jan. 18

Arkansas Noon-Day Vigil (Virtual)

12 p.m. Jan. 18

25th Annual Recommitment Virtual Event 

7 p.m. Jan. 18

This year’s keynote speaker is Kevin Dedner, founder & CEO of Hurdle. Tickets are required to view the event virtually and are available at


University of Arkansas – Fort Smith

Online Panel Discussion

9:30 a.m. Jan. 18

“Human Rights in a Time of Crisis: A Virtual Conversation” was inspired by Dr. King’s quote, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at the time of challenge and controversy.” The event is organized by the Democracy Project at UAFS.

Panelists include Fort Smith Police Chief Danny Baker, Rep. Jay Richardson, public defender Rita Howard Watkins, Arkansas Immigration Defense activist Mayra Esquivel, and Rev. Sona B. Key who is a founding member of Police and Community Engagement. The conversation will be moderated by Paul Davis, senior pastor for St. James Missionary Baptist Church.

In addition to the online conversation, the Boreham Library on the UAFS campus will have a book display throughout the week featuring selected works pertaining to civil rights.


Mosaic Templars Cultural Center 

MLK Day of Service

11 a.m. to 2 p.m Jan. 18 

MTCC will host a letter-writing campaign with A Million Thanks, a nonprofit organization that collects and sends letters and cards of appreciation to soldiers. This year, MTCC plans to join the campaign while highlighting the contributions of African American veterans who are often overlooked by history. 

Social distancing and masks are required. Letterheads, notecards and pens that participants can take home will be available on tables set up throughout the museum. Letters to veterans can be dropped off at MTCC independently through Jan. 18. Letters will be mailed Jan. 22.


4th Annual Springdale, Arkansas MLK Celebration 

Virtual Event

1 to 2:30 p.m. Jan. 18

This story has been updated to include an event hosted by UAFS. 

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.