In addition to annual march downtown, events include virtual panel discussion, storytelling and clothing drive

While the COVID-19 pandemic forced some changes to annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day events, it has opened the door to new virtual alternatives for the community to unite and celebrate.

The City of Somerset, Lake Cumberland Diversity Council, Somerset Community College and the United Way of South Central Kentucky have partnered to host a week of events in observance of the federal holiday that celebrates the civil rights leader’s birthday.

While Somerset Community College’s annual Unity Breakfast has been canceled due to the pandemic, one event that hasn’t changed is the MLK Unity March downtown on Monday, Jan. 18.

Walkers will meet at 11 a.m. at Davis Chapel A.M.E. on Main Street, beside Dairy Queen, and walk along the sidewalks down Main Street, around Fountain Square and up West Mount Vernon Street to the Lake Cumberland Farmers Market at Citizens National Bank Pavilion. A community gathering with food and speakers will follow at the market. Masks will be required.

On the following day — Tuesday, Jan. 19 — the National Day of Racial Healing will be observed with a virtual panel discussion. Somerset Mayor Alan Keck and Somerset Police Chief William Hunt will join JaKaye Garth, director of sales for Thoroughbred Hospitality Group; Elaine Wilson, director of equity and inclusion at Somerset Community College; Nate and Jada Fischer, owners of Quest Counseling; John Perkins, former Somerset postmaster and owner of Johnny B’s BBQ; and Yusef Franklin, pastor at South Maple Street Baptist Church, for a conversation about racial healing in the community, state and nation.

The video discussion will be posted at 2 p.m. Jan. 19 on the City of Somerset’s Facebook page.

Finally, on Wednesday through Friday (Jan. 20-22) at noon and 5 p.m. each day, the United Way of South Central Kentucky will host virtual storytelling on its Facebook page as a way of engaging and educating local youth. Each participant will read a book that focuses on Dr. King or the Civil Rights movement.

Garth, who is a member of the Lake Cumberland Diversity Council and served on the committee to organize these events, said while the community will miss the annual Unity Breakfast hosted by SCC, the group is proud to bring multiple community partners together to celebrate Dr. King and the significance of his accomplishments.

“With the recent climate surrounding racial injustice, these events and courageous conversations are necessary to be had, especially with our community leaders,” Garth said. “The goal is to create a better understanding of the ongoing experiences people of color encounter, specifically in a small town, and in turn, create a more unified community.”

Throughout the entire week, winter clothing items will be collected to benefit the Over My Head homeless shelter in Somerset. Anyone who would like to donate coats, gloves, scarves, hats and socks to this effort can drop off items from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at Over My Head (150 Turner St., Somerset), 12-3 p.m. Monday and Wednesday at ABA Gives (95 Ky. 2227, Somerset) or 4-6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday at ABA Gives.

For more information about any of these events or to get involved, contact Garth at [email protected] or Healthy Somerset Director Kathy Townsend at [email protected].