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City Across The U.S. Hold Virtual MLK Day Celebrations

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

All right, to another story - it is Martin Luther King Jr. Day here in the U.S., a holiday usually celebrated with parades and festivals and interfaith services. This year, the pandemic forced the cancellation of most of those gatherings. But after a year dominated by racial turmoil, many cities found ways to hold virtual celebrations instead. NPR's Adrian Florido reports.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Speaking from The King Center in Atlanta to just a handful of people spread out in the pews but to the thousands watching online, Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter, Bernice King, said she'd never have predicted all the racial turmoil the last year would bring.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNICE KING: The resurgent culture of divisiveness, hate, racism, nationalism and violence has reached a critical stage. And at this point, the United States is certainly the poster child for it.

FLORIDO: Police killings of Black people, a pandemic ravaging Black and brown America, a president trying to toss out Black votes, insurrectionists storming the Capitol - she called on the violence to end.

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KING: Yes, there are many who will continue to endorse and even employ violence as their answer to social change. But in the words of my mama, she said somebody has to cut off the chain of violence. So on this King holiday, it's not too late for us to shift from chaos to community.

FLORIDO: King shared the stage with Raphael Warnock, Georgia's recently elected first Black senator who's also the pastor of Dr. King's Ebenezer Baptist Church. Warnock said making that shift to community requires understanding that Americans' fates are linked.

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RAPHAEL WARNOCK: A deadly pandemic has reminded us that we are tied together, as Dr. King said, in a single garment of destiny. Because we're dealing with a deadly airborne disease, my neighbor coughs, and I'm imperiled by the cough of my neighbor. That doesn't make my neighbor my enemy. That means that our destiny is tied together. We are as close in our humanity as a cough.

FLORIDO: The Atlanta event was just one of many held to honor the King holiday. There were virtual events in Memphis, Detroit, Denver and Los Angeles. In San Antonio, where tens of thousands of people usually march on this day, the city streamed what it called a virtual march.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Chanting) No justice.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Chanting) No peace.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Chanting) No justice.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Chanting) No peace.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Chanting) Black lives matter.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: (Chanting) Black lives matter.

FLORIDO: It featured the voices of families of people killed by police. In Chicago, the city's virtual commemoration highlighted the work of community leaders who have focused on healing the wounds inflicted by racism. And speaking via Zoom from North Carolina, the Reverend William Barber II called on the incoming Biden-Harris administration to chart a new, less violent course for the nation, even as the threat of violence continues to loom over the presidential transition.

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WILLIAM BARBER II: And so the way out, we believe in this moment, is to heal the mourning and the hurt that people are experiencing.

FLORIDO: He, joined by about a dozen other faith leaders, laid out a 14-point plan they said would help the nation, and specifically Black and Brown Americans, to begin healing - more COVID relief, access to health care, a higher minimum wage, immigration reform, voter protections.

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BARBER: We must choose policy nonviolence and stop policy violence, and nothing would be more tragic than for us to turn back at this point.

FLORIDO: He said anything less would be a dishonor to Dr. King's legacy.

Adrian Florido, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF PETIT BISCUIT'S "YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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