JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — This year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day comes amidst a year of local and national racial reckoning. But because in-person celebrations are nearly impossible due to the pandemic, many Johns Creek organizations have struggled to find ways to commemorate King’s legacy.
For the past several years, the Johns Creek Arts Center has held festive “birthday parties” each year in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The free events featured live storytelling, art activities, pizza and birthday cake and were designed for the whole family.
This year’s event, the Center’s “Martin Luther King Family Day Drive-up event,” will take place on Jan. 18 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Participants can drive up to the center, located at 6290 Abbotts Bridge Road/Suite 700, to pick up a free activity bag.
Because quantities are limited, those interested in attending should register by filling out a Google form on the johnscreekarts.org website.
Johns Creek Arts Center Executive Director Stephanie Cook said the celebration will be the center’s eighth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day event.
Residents who would prefer to celebrate King’s birthday at a synchronous, albeit virtual, event can look to Alpharetta’s St. James United Methodist Church. Past celebrations hosted by the over-150-year-old church in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day have drawn crowds of hundreds — singing, marching and cheering together to celebrate King’s legacy.
This year’s event will be virtual for the first time and will be spread across three days, from Jan. 17 to Jan. 19. The event’s theme is “Where Do We Go From Here? Visions of Beloved Community.” The theme emphasizes how the community can use the celebration of one of the United States’ most inspiring figures to find hope during a time of racial unrest, pandemic and political divisiveness.
“So where do we go from here? I think the first thing that we have to do is learn to love one another, respect one another and value each other,” said the Rev. Dr. Gregory S. Williams, St. James senior pastor. “As children of God, we can have different beliefs. We can have different values, but the bottom line is we have to learn to live together and work together because we are God's people.”
On the evening of Sunday, Jan. 17, a group of North Georgia pastors will share their perspectives on the importance of King’s legacy in the present moment. Monday’s programming will include music, a presentation of a Dr. MLK, Jr. award and a talk by featured speaker Artis Stevens, the first Black president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. A rebroadcast of a November “Bridging the Gap” event on racial reconciliation through worship and fellowship will conclude the three-day event on Tuesday.
St. James UMC Associate Pastor Tavares Stephens said he hopes the weekend’s events will leave participants with tangible examples of “where [to] go from here” and inspire discussion about “how we’re living into where God wants us to go.”
The virtual celebration aims to reach people across the world and encourage them to listen and learn from each other, Williams said. He stressed that the past year’s events — including this week’s U.S. Capitol riot — have shown that the United States is currently a nation divided, which makes coming together to honor King’s legacy of unity and togetherness under God especially important.
“Both division and togetherness are a choice,” Stephens said.
Much of the programming at the upcoming event comes out of St. James UMC’s longstanding partnerships with other churches in the area that encompass different denominations.
“When we band pastors together and give them a voice, they are able to go back to their churches and they're able to impact their people,” Williams said. “That's how we change the world. One person at a time, one church at a time, one home at a time.”