Alluding to the latest COVID-19 resurgence, the Bulloch County Branch of the NAACP on Thursday announced the cancellation of two of its three planned Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend events. The one event that will still take place is the MLK Day Community Drive-In Celebration, 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 17 at Mill Creek Regional Park.
So, MLK Day 2022 in Statesboro will be observed much like MLK Day 2021, when the drive-in service debuted as a way to have a gathering with speeches, recitations and music while maintaining social distancing during the pandemic.
This year, through the beginning of the current week, when they were still inviting floats and other entries, organizers were planning to hold an MLK Day Parade downtown on Monday afternoon and an NAACP Youth Council Brunch this Saturday morning. A precede story on all three events appeared in the Tuesday edition. But in an email at midday Thursday, Bulloch County NAACP President Delinda Gaskins cited recent conversations with city officials.
“The Bulloch County NAACP worked with great efforts to ensure the 2022 Martin Luther King, Jr. events would honor the legacy of Dr. King and remind us that there is much more to do and we must continue Fighting Forward in our efforts,” Gaskins wrote. “However, after careful consideration and many conversations with the City of Statesboro regarding the safety of our beloved members and residents, the Executive Committee has decided to cancel the MLK Parade and Youth Brunch.”
In the next sentence, she noted that the Community Drive-In Service will still take place at 6 p.m. Monday. “Fighting Forward” is a current NAACP national slogan and would have been the theme for floats and parade participants.
Still grand marshal
Charles Hendrix, who had been announced as the parade grand marshal, Gaskins now referred to as the 2022 MLK Grand Marshal, and said he will be presented during the drive-in celebration.
“Those groups who entered floats will be able to present their floats during this event should they desire,” she wrote.
So the drive-in event has both a grand marshal and a keynote speaker. That speaker, as previously announced, will be Bishop Sharma D. Lewis, who grew up in Statesboro and is now resident United Methodist Church bishop of the Richmond, Virginia, episcopal area.
Her parents, the late Charlie Lewis Sr. and the late Alethia Lewis, in addition to being business and civil rights pioneers in Statesboro, were both life members of the NAACP. In 2016, Sharma Lewis became the first African-American woman to be elected a bishop in the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church, according to her biography on the church’s Virginia Conference website.
“The speaker for the evening is one of our very own, Bishop Sharma D. Lewis, the daughter of true civil rights leaders, Charlie and Alethia Lewis,” Gaskins wrote.
Hendrix, the grand marshal, retired from the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office at the end of 2011 after more than 33 years as a deputy.
“He seems quiet and reserved, but his presence on the force really made a major difference,” Gaskins had said. “There are many families that are thankful of his presence and his service in this community.”
To the extent it follows the model of last year’s first-time event, Monday’s 6 p.m. service really will be set up like a drive-in theater, on the grounds of Mill Creek Park, 1388 Georgia Highway 24 East, but with a stage for some in-person speakers and musicians.
Other speakers and video presentations appear on inflated pop-up screens, and attendees can remain in their cars, trucks and SUVs to watch, listen and respond. Signs and volunteers will direct people where to park, and they will also be informed of a frequency to tune their radios to for the “drive-in” audio.
Two food trucks are scheduled to take on the role of concession stands. Tickets for a free meal from either of the food trucks will be distributed to the first 200 participants to arrive.