Virtual MLK celebration brings hope to Yakima community

Virtual Mlk Yakima 2021

YAKIMA, Wash. — The COVID-19 pandemic nearly forced the annual Yakima celebration of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. to a grinding halt, but organizers pushed through, feeling that the community needed to come together and look to the future.

“These recent events gave us more motivation and added more fuel to the fire to not only do this event, but letting this be the catalyst into 2021 and organizing more events and more activities and working towards a common goal,” said Anthony Peterson, Deputy CEO of OIC Washington.

Such events included the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police, numerous other accounts of fatal police uses of force against African-Americans and ever-present racial tensions across the country and in the community.

Sparked by Floyd’s death, the Yakima Valley banded together to protest and call for change. Some efforts, like those of peaceful protestors in Yakima, were  held largely without incident. Other efforts, such as the Black Lives Matter chalk art movement in Selah, were the subject of controversy and subject to efforts for removal.

But despite the difficulties and continued struggles, speakers took to the Zoom celebration Monday afternoon to call for renewed and continued action to bring the community together and uplift those people whose voices often remain unheard.

The theme of the 36th Annual Martin Luther King Celebration — put on by the MLK Committee of Yakima — was “Power in the People!…Freedom, Equality, Prosperity.”

The event featured a mix of pre-recorded and live speakers, musicians, dancers and prayers. It also featured part of an interview with Yakima police Chief Matt Murray, who spoke about the importance of honesty and engaging in dialogue with people who may not share the same views.

During the interview, Murray was asked what question he would ask King if he could speak with him right now.

“I think I would ask him if he is disappointed,” Murray said. “I think I would ask him if this was more like the dream he had or less.”

After a series of virtual events over the past week culminating in the Zoom celebration, the last event in this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in Yakima is the 18th Annual Lee Paggett Food Drive.

Community members can bring non-perishable items to food drop boxes outside of the main office doors of both Davis and Eisenhower high schools from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Friday.

While the food drive is usually held as a competition between the two schools, Peterson said this year, it’s a collaboration. Donations will be delivered to Northwest Harvest in honor of Lee Paggett, a former Yakima educator who dedicated himself to helping young people in the community.