By Tori Mason

DENVER (CBS4)– Denver is home to one of the largest Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations in the country. The COVID-19 pandemic has halted the thousands of people who’d normally march through city streets on Monday, but organizers are hopeful the community will celebrate his legacy at home.

(credit: CBS)

“Dr. King was a true patriot. We have to remember that he was the conscience of America. He was someone who brought all people together,” said Dr. Vern Howard, chairman of the MLK Colorado Holiday Commission.

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Bringing people together, at least literally, this year isn’t an option under current health guidelines.

Watch Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day virtual events here:

The MLK Colorado Holiday Commission will still follow through on traditions like the laying of the wreath, the invocation and the passing of the Dr. Martin Luther King unity torch. But this year, they’ll be virtual. The commission has also planned an online panel discussion on criminal justice transformation joined by the state attorney general.

“When it comes to criminal justice, we have to have a transformation. That panel will have two Republican-elected district attorneys and two Democrat-elected district attorneys. It will also include people who have been affected and offended by the current criminal justice system,” said Howard.

Howard has been involved with Colorado’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day for nearly four decades. He says it’s unfortunate the city can’t come together this year, but this is a matter of public health. He says any congregation at the MLK statue in City Park Monday is not associated with the MLK Colorado Holiday Commission.

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(credit: Getty Images)

“Do not come out! We’re asking people to do something in your own community, film it and send it to us. We’ll put it on our website. You can still be a part of the Marade, it’s just a virtual one this year,” said Howard.

The theme of this year’s event is “Good Trouble” in honor of the late Rep. John Lewis. Before he died, Lewis told Americans to “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” Much of the trouble our nation has seen this year, particularly during last week’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, was neither good nor necessary.

Tensions in America are high. Howard says a deadly virus wouldn’t have been the only danger to this year’s Marade.

“When we think about the threats that we’ve received form folks wanting to disrupt the Marade, I guess it’s a good thing that COVID happened, because we’re not having the Marade,” said Howard. “We’ve had folks talk about how the Marade would be a ‘good place to make their voice heard’ and things of that sort. Since we’re not having the march, we’re not as concerned about it.”

COVID-19 hasn’t disrupted the charitable aspect of Denver’s MLK celebration. The commission has partnered with foundations like The Struggle of Love, The Opportunity Center in Aurora and the Denver Rescue Mission to collect and distribute non-perishable food, hygiene products and winter clothing.

(credit: CBS)

MLK Colorado Holiday Commission will also be feeding hot meals to up to 5,000 people this week. Links to the virtual panel and activities will be available online.

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LINK: MLK Colorado Holiday Commission

Tori Mason