Cassopolis organization to host virtual MLK Jr. Day celebration

CASSOPOLIS — The COVID-19 pandemic could not keep one Cassopolis organization from hosting an annual celebration of the Civil Rights movement and the impact Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy still has on the nation today.

At 7 p.m. Monday, the League for Encouraging Empowerment will host a virtual MLK Jr. Day celebration. The event, which can be viewed on the Cassopolis nonprofit’s website, leellc.org, will feature performances from Cassopolis youth and students, as well as speeches from Cass County Treasurer Hope Anderson and Singer Steven Eleazer, a Cassopolis native. The theme of the event will be “unmasking the dream.”

“Despite everything that is going on, we still wanted to have a celebration,” said Carmen Lee Peake, an organizer with LEE. “We came up with the theme ‘unmasking the dream’ because of COVID. … This is the first time everything will be virtual.”

Traditionally, organizers plan a breakfast celebration in honor of MLK Jr. Day, complete with speakers and students participating in an essay contest. Following the breakfast, a march through Cassopolis typically takes place. However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, those gatherings had to be canceled for this year.

“We will still follow the format of our traditional evening service, but we won’t be meeting in person,” Peake said. “Next year, hopefully, we will be back to what we have done in the past, but we didn’t want not to do it this year just because things were different.”

Also new this year was expanding the youth participation program of the evening beyond essays. Peake said this year students could also submit a spoken-word poem or interpretive dance. She said the change was made to be more inclusive to Cassopolis youth, as much of the event — like the LEE organization itself — is geared toward inspiring and engaging area youth.

“We wanted to broaden it for the students,” she said. “Our speakers were chosen because they are positive people in the community of color who the youth can look up to and let them know that they can achieve what they are trying to achieve.”

Peake said she hopes the community will come together and celebrate MLK Jr. Day, even if it is over the computer screen.

“This is a yearly reminder of what Martin Luther King stood for as far as everyone coming together and being able to pursue what they want to in life,” Peake said. “In this community, we think that we need that reminder, just like any other community. We just want to do our part in giving people hope.”

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