The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has impacted every aspect of daily life. Many events that would be held in-person in normal years have switched to being held completely virtually. Greeley’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration was no exception.
The event, hosted by UNC, AIMS Community College, and Greeley District 6 was held entirely over Zoom. The hour-long presentation featured performances from poets, dancers, actors and chefs from UNC and around the nation.
The event started with a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by singers from UNC’s choir. UNC’s Phi Beta Sigma and Zeta Phi Beta Greek organizations performed choreography set to “Revolution” by Kirk Franklin. Poet Saida Dahir spoke about her experiences as a Somali immigrant in the United States. Deandre Smith, also known as Chef Cool Dre, gave a lecture on the history of soul food and its relationship to Black culture.
The core performance came halfway through the event. UNC’s “Operation Cheesecake” presented individual pieces surrounding themes of safety and police brutality. The short video included still photos of group members holding signs and standing in front of American symbols. Group members recited poetry, performed monologues, and freestyled as they connected their personal experiences to the historical events surrounding Martin Luther King’s life and death. Group member Kenyan Bernard performed live with Operation Cheesecake in previous years and compared the two experiences.
“The process itself isn’t necessarily, like, weird or anything, it just took some getting used to,” Bernard said.
The virtual march was not the only event held that day, though it was the only one with official sanction. Some UNC students organized an in-person march to draw attention to the issues still plaguing the community. The event was promoted through social media and word-of-mouth. Each advertisement stressed the importance of mask-wearing and social distancing.
Around 60 people gathered to march down 10th Avenue from the University Center to Lincoln Park. Attendees played music and carried signs. Organizers carried a banner at the head of the march and wore high-visibility vests to guard marchers at major intersections. Speakers at the unofficial event discussed the similarities between today’s movement and the original march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
Organizers of the in-person march remained anonymous due to the unsanctioned nature of the event but encouraged attendees to fight for racial justice on their own terms. One organizer spoke about the importance of action and asked listeners about what they would do during the original civil rights movement.
“I want to ask you all, what would you be doing? Like you, personally?” she asked.
Speakers at both events drew attention to similarities in the response to marches both during King’s lifetime and over the summer. Attendees were urged to continue working towards racial equality even after leaving. Although each event was structured differently, both spread the same message: equality is fought for, not given.