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Martin Luther King Jr. Day events held across San Diego amid COVID surge

Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated across the country and San Diego County with marches and cultural events. KPBS Speak City Heights reporter Jacob Aere says some of the local celebrations were forced to go virtual for a second straight year due to COVID-19.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated during the COVID-19 pandemic for the second straight year on Monday.

San Diegans gathered in different ways across the county to celebrate the leader of the American civil rights movement.

RELATED: On MLK Day, Biden says Americans must commit to King's work

In City Heights, the Chicano Federation hosted a day of service where the organization's CEO, Nancy Maldonado, said volunteers beautified an art project at an affordable housing property.

“We chose words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s speeches — so hope, peace — words that when our residents come out, we hope it can evoke some positive emotions,” she said, “but also always remind them of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and what he stood for.”

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Roland Lizarondo
Chicano Federation CEO Nancy Maldonado paints words onto a wall at Wightman Apartments in City Heights, Jan. 17, 2022.

Other events, like Alliance San Diego’s 34th Annual All Peoples Celebration, chose to forego their annual breakfast.

They held their event virtually this year due to COVID-19.

Isidro Ortiz, board president of Alliance San Diego, said in a written statement:

“Now, more than ever, we must channel the love and empathy we have felt for those touched by the pandemic into a practical and powerful recipe for systemic change.”

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Roland Lizarondo
A volunteer paints words onto a wall at Wightman Apartments in City Heights, Jan. 17, 2022.

One large-scale event that did go on in-person was the 32nd annual King Day.

This year the party-like celebration was held outside, in Balboa Park, with live music, guest speakers and performers.

RELATED: All People's Celebration brings disability rights to the forefront of King's Dream

Clifton Morgan III and his family were waiting in line. He encouraged other families to discuss and pass down King’s legacy to future generations.

“What he meant to the culture, what he meant to the movement in terms of making this world better — not just for people who look like me, but for everybody of all cultures and creeds — I'm here to celebrate that legacy and that life,” he said.

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Jacob Aere
Clifton Morgan III and his family stand in line outside the WorldBeat Cultural Center, Jan. 17, 2022.

WorldBeat Cultural Center founder Makeda Cheatom helped to organize the celebration in Balboa Park.

“Music and dance and art is the weapon. So we bring everyone together of all colors — we dance together, we eat together. There’s only one race, and that's the human race,” she said.

RELATED: TCM honors Martin Luther King, Jr. with night of civil rights documentaries

The WorldBeat Center gathering also doubled as a food and clothing drive for Haitian refugees in Tijuana.

“This is a day of service, this is a day of giving back. That's what Dr. King was about. He would be 93 today and we got to continue to read about Dr. King and know who he is. I mean some of the things I am still just learning,” Cheatom said.

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Jacob Aere
People line up to buy food outside the WorldBeat Cultural Center, Jan. 17, 2022.