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Northwest African American Museum's MLK celebration goes virtual, socially distant for 2021

"A pandemic cannot stop that message of hope," said museum Executive Director LaNesha DeBardelaben.

The Northwest African American Museum normally hosts thousands every Martin Luther King, Jr., Day to celebrate King's legacy, Black culture and art.

Not being able to open the building was not going to stop them this year.

"A pandemic cannot stop that message of hope," said museum Executive Director LaNesha DeBardelaben.

This year, the museum made a shift to an online celebration and a drive-through at a nearby park, offering families bags of books and activities and an autographed soccer ball.

“Happy King Day!” could be heard echoing through a neighborhood near Seattle’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park.

In normal years, MLK Day is a big event at the Northwest African American Museum, with several in-person exhibits and a variety of performances and speakers.

“We typically see 2,500 people here at NAAM on King Day,” DeBardelaben said.

DeBardelaben spent Monday traveling back and forth between the museum and the nearby drive-up event that featured community partners like the Seattle Sounders FC and the RAVE Foundation.

The lineup of speakers and musical performances were virtual this year and is available for replay on Youtube.

The “Knowledge is Power” book giveaway also featured former Seattle Sounders FC star Brad Evans.

Rallying the community and leading by example was the theme today as the Virtual celebration engaged viewers online with powerful speeches and moving musical tributes. Parts of the celebration will be posted online on its YouTube channel.

DeBardelaben said they wished they could have their annual event this year but the message is too powerful to silence, even if it couldn't be in person.

The day reminded her of one of her favorite quotes from the man of honor: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” 

Other groups also had to adjust their usual commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Seattle. The annual community march and rally that starts at Garfield High School also took place Monday, but organizers asked participants to stay socially distanced and wear masks.

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