The Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade will once again not be held this year, The Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts announced Thursday.
The parade was cancelled in 2021 and 2022 due to COVID-19 restrictions. But this year, the office said the decision to not hold a parade is a “conscious” one meant to celebrate King’s legacy through volunteer work.
“Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is the only federal holiday designated as a National Day of Service,” the office said, and encouraged all Baltimoreans to volunteer with local or national organizations on Monday, Jan. 16.
The 2019 parade was the 19th annual edition of the event, according to an archived history on a former BOPA website. The parade features a procession of more than 70 groups — including bands, color guards and other civic organizations — on the boulevard bearing King’s name on the western edge of downtown.
Monica Lewis, a spokesperson for Mayor Brandon Scott, said the decision to cancel the parade this year was made jointly by BOPA and the mayor’s office.
“We love having parades to honor holidays and people who have made contributions to society, but we believe that the best way to honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is to encourage people to do what is necessary to help others and their communities get to a better place,” Lewis said Thursday.
Lewis referred to a quote attributed to the civil rights leader: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Baltimoreans can find volunteer opportunities on the AmeriCorps website, according to a news release. Civic Works has also announced several project sites in the area where people can volunteer, including Civic Works’ Community Landscaping, Civic Works’ Real Food Farm, Waverly Main Street, and Baltimore Community Tool Bank, among others.
A BOPA spokesperson said Thursday that Baltimoreans can also check other city websites for opportunities. The United Way of Central Maryland lists places to volunteer across Maryland on its website, and Gov.-elect Wes Moore announced his team will partner with the organization to lead a Day of Service.
Some local officials criticized the move.
U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a Democrat representing Maryland’s 7th Congressional District and a former head of the NAACP, called it “disgraceful.”
“I am concerned and disappointed by today’s announcement,” Mfume said in a statement. “It is disrespectful to tell entire communities that there won’t be an MLK parade less than two weeks before the celebration of his birthday and equally disrespectful to suggest that he can’t be celebrated through both a day of service and a community parade. BOPA is going down the wrong path by making this decision, thereby setting the stage for there never to be an MLK celebration parade again in Baltimore.”
City Councilman Eric Costello, whose district includes the parade route, suggested BOPA’s decision to cancel put the organization in violation of its contract with the city.
Costello said he intends to examine the matter in front of the Ways and Means Committee, of which he is the chair.
The announcement comes as BOPA attempts to reimagine other longtime events, including Artscape, the organization’s signature outdoor arts festival.
In October, months after Scott said Artscape would return for 2022 after a two-year COVID hiatus, BOPA announced it would instead be held in 2023 with a new September date and a shift in programming.
The group also announced the Light City festival, featuring bright displays around the Inner Harbor and multiple neighborhoods, would not return until 2024, according to a report last April from WJZ-TV, a Baltimore Banner media partner.
The City Council has scrutinized BOPA’s funding after CEO Donna Drew Sawyer could not adequately explain how money earmarked for Artscape in 2020 and 2021 was spent, The Banner reported.
Council members last summer cut nearly $200,000 from the organization’s $2.6 million budget.