After a drive-in version of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Community Celebration proved popular last year, organizers are making the drive-in service, 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 17, at Mill Creek Regional Park the culminating event of this year’s MLK observance in Statesboro.
But this year, the much older tradition of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade downtown is resuming, with dozens of units set to roll, march and stroll beginning at 2 p.m. Monday. As a prelude to these events, the NAACP Youth Council Brunch will be held at Pittman Park United Methodist Church, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 15. All three events are sponsored by the Bulloch County Branch of the NAACP.
So, MLK Day Weekend 2022 brings the return of some in-person activities but also retains the unique drive-in event that debuted in January 2021 as a way to hold a community service while preserving some COVID-19 safety precautions.
“Individuals thoroughly enjoyed the drive-in, and you’re maintaining your social distance, and the food trucks will be back again this year,” said Bulloch County NAACP President Delinda Gaskins.
Tickets for a free meal from either of the two food trucks will be distributed to the first 200 participants to arrive. The event really is 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.
Lewis to keynote
Bishop Sharma D. Lewis, who grew up in Statesboro and is now resident United Methodist Church bishop of the Richmond, Virginia, episcopal area, is scheduled to deliver the keynote remarks. 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. They owned and operated Lewis Van Lines, Lewis Beauty Shop and other businesses. Charlie Lewis was a founding member of the Bulloch County Branch of the NAACP. Alethia Lewis was its president for 12 years, also served in state conference leadership roles and led in establishing two additional local NAACP units, the Bulloch County Youth Council and the Georgia Southern University Chapter.
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. She had previously served, from 2010, as district superintendent of the UMC’s Atlanta-Decatur-Oxford District. Now as bishop, Lewis is a board member and vice chair of the Standing Committee on Evangelism for the World Methodist Council and a member of the Black Clergywomen and Black Methodists for Church Renewal. She serves as liaison to the Interagency Sexual Ethics Task Force, a unit of the UMC’s General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.
Speakers at Monday’s community service will address ongoing struggles for justice, with some specific thoughts for 2022, Gaskins said.
“2022 we know is a year of elections, and we want to make sure everyone fully understands what’s taking place as far as voting, what’s at stake,” she said. “Individuals need to understand just the true purpose of getting out to vote, and how everything that happens in Washington and Atlanta trickles back down to Statesboro and affects us here in Bulloch County, and we need to understand that we make the difference.”
Hendrix grand marshal
“Fighting Forward,” the overall theme for this year’s observance, should be most in evidence in the signs, floats and banners of the 2 p.m., Monday parade.
“That’s a statement within NAACP that in what we’re doing we’re really fighting forward,” Gaskins said. “We’re defending democracy, we’re looking for inclusion in our economy for all individuals, for justice, for affordable housing … health and wellbeing, environmental and climate justice. We’re still trying to dismantle racism. We cannot stop; we have to continue fighting forward.”
The 2022 Bulloch County MLK Day Parade grand marshal is Charlie Hendrix, who retired from the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office at the end of 2011 after more than 33 years as a deputy.
“Over the years he has been such an influence and so impactful in the lives of residents here,” Gaskins said. “He seems quiet and reserved, but his presence on the force really made a major difference. There are many families that are thankful of his presence and his service in this community.”
Although parade participants have been signing up since early December, there is still room for more, she said Friday. Vehicles, marching or walking units and floats all participate, and there will be a float contest with judges to select a third-place, a second-place and a first-place winner.
Parade participants should register their units online at https://forms.gle/cRGwYmmXzBXmNUsz9 or complete one of the applications available at Hill's Mortuary, the Craig R. Tremble Funeral Home and James R. Barnes Mortuary. Participants will line up on Olliff Street between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday.
The parade will then follow its traditional route, down North Main Street in front of the courthouse to turn right onto West Main, and then right again onto Martin Luther King Jr. Drive before concluding at Luetta Moore Park.
But before Monday’s events, the Bulloch County NAACP will hold its Youth Council Brunch, 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Pittman Park United Methodist Church, 1102 Fair Road. With tickets going for $15 each, this is an event the adult branch puts on in support of the Youth Council, with some young people as speakers.
“We come together, we appreciate our young people, we discuss our NAACP youth advocacy,” Gaskins said.
Adult and youth leaders are trying to reinvigorate the NAACP Youth Council after nearly two years when in-person events were avoided for pandemic reasons. Membership in the Youth Council is open to children and youth up to 25 years old who are not attending a college or university where a college chapter is available.