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Cincinnati's MLK march is still happening, but program goes virtual amid COVID spike

Ann Thompson
People take to the streets for the 2020 MLK march.

Cincinnati's MLK Commemorative program is happening virtually for the second year in a row amid COVID-19 infection rate spikes in Hamilton County. The commemorative march, however, is still happening.

The march begins at 10:30 a.m. Monday in front of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and wraps up at Washington Park for an interfaith prayer service around 11:15 a.m.

Metro is providing two of its buses to the motorcade, including the “Rosa Parks Bus,” which honors the role Parks played in desegregation, public transportation and in the civil rights movement.

Buses will also be on-hand to help people who cannot walk the entirety of the march and masks are required to ride.

Metro will continue providing its regularly scheduled routes Monday.

A plaque commemorating the legacy on Rosa Park is now on Cincinnati Metro's Rosa Parks Bus.
Provided by Metro
A plaque commemorating the legacy on Rosa Park is now on Cincinnati Metro's Rosa Parks Bus.

This year's MLK Coalition theme and keynote speaker

The MLK Coalition said in a new release that modern day justice organizers are fighting for health care access, police reform, and voter suppression – all reiterating themes in Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." The links between the past and present prompted this year's theme, "Your freedom and my freedom are bound together."

Despite the move online, the commemorative program is still slated to feature a keynote speaker and musicians.

Longtime activist and business owner Iris Roley is this year's keynote. She's the co-founder of the Black United Front and has spent decades working on police reform and policy in Cincinnati. She's also working with young people of the Leaders of the Free World, an organization that wants to see updates toCincinnati's Collaborative Agreement.

Performers include Saba Jazz's Camille “Saba” Smith and University of Cincinnati students who are part of the African American Cultural and Resource Center. That includes solo performers Shakyra Welch, Abby Adeji, and spoken word artist Gerald Crosby.

The live stream begins at noon and can be seen free of charge on the MLK Coalition website. It will be available for later viewing after 2 p.m. Monday.

Freedom Center events

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is also hosting events Monday. Due to COVID-19, however, guests are encouraged to register for a free ticket in advance due to capacity limits.

The schedule for the day at the center is as follows:

  • 9 a.m. to noon: Warming Station hosted by Kroger, outdoors at North Star Café
  • 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Brent Billingsley “One Piece at a Time” Paint Station, 2nd floor, Grand Hall
  • 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Voter registration hosted by the NAACP, 3rd floor
  • 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Education Activation station, 3rd floor
  • 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.: End Slavery Now information station, 3rd floor, Invisible: Slavery Today
  • 2 p.m.: Musical performance by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, 2nd floor, Harriet Tubman Theater

The center is also co-hosting a separate pre-recorded virtual presentation at 9 a.m. Monday on poverty, racism, and militarism. WLWT anchor and reporter Courtis Fuller is emceeing the event. Lance Wheeler, public community curator and director of exhibitions at the National Center For Civil and Human Rights, is the keynote speaker.
It also includes performances by the Central State University Chorus and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Nouveau Chamber Players.

Tickets to the program are $15 and can be purchased at theFreedom Center website.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.