Like most holidays this past year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated much differently in 2021. The local 41st annual parade in his honor was canceled because of the pandemic, but organizers are encouraging people to reflect on Dr. King’s accomplishments regardless.
“This is a turning point for us,” Isaac Ford told NBC 7 on Monday.. "We have to decide, as a country, what we actually stand for. And I think it’s very appropriate that were celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday today and we can revisit all of the things that he fought for so many years ago.
Dr. King joined Alpha Phi Alpha, the first collegiate Black fraternity, in 1952. Ford is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha’s alumni chapter, Zeta Sigma Lambda. Ford said the fraternity focuses on social justice, scholarship and service in the community.
“This is not something that’s a phase for us, but the work continues,” Ford said.
Zeta Sigma Lambda hosts the annual parade in San Diego, which features floats, high school bands, drill teams, youth organizations and churches. While the parade didn’t happen this year, Ford said -- as he looked back on a challenging year -- that King’s message of peace and quality remains timely, from the pandemic to civil unrest to, most recently, the Capitol being stormed by people lined to white supremacist groups.
“When I was a young man, I said a prayer: Lord, let me see a day where my sons, daughters, granddaughters, my kids would not see what I saw when I was in my 20s and 30s," Ford said, "but here we are now, in 2021, so I guess that prayer is going to have to extend. Hopefully my great-grandkids will see a day where none of this stuff exists…. We’re not post-racial just yet. There’s still a lot of work to be done. A lot of progress has been made, but still there’s a lot of work to be done.".
Ford also took a moment to remember Dr. Bob Matthews, who, Ford said, was one of the first to organize the MLK parade in San Diego with the late Alpha Phi Alpha brother,Mr. Rufus DeWitt. Ford said Matthews approached the Zeta Sigma Lambda foundation to help plan and execute the parade, which the chapter has done for more than 40 years. Ford said Matthews got approval from Coretta Scott King to call the parade the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade. Ford said this year would have been the first without Matthews and his wife.
Alliance San Diego's All Peoples Celebration was also impacted by the pandemic. Organizers hosted the event virtually, which began with a blessing from members of the Kumeyaay tribe. Traditionally more than 1,000 people attend the program and breakfast.