In past years, before the coronavirus upended daily life in Prince William County and around the country, hundreds of people filed into the Hylton Memorial Chapel in Woodbridge on the third Monday in January to hear local middle and high school students deliver speeches inspired by the words of the late Martin Luther King, Jr.
COVID-19 has changed the long-standing event this year, but it didn’t cancel it altogether. As with so many other events, the local MLK Day tradition has gone virtual.
The event’s sponsor, the Prince William County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., will host its 31st annual program at 11 a.m. today on You Tube.
The Rev. Al Sharpton will make a guest appearance, and audience members will have an opportunity to vote for their favorite speaker with a new text-to-vote feature, according to an event press release.
This year’s theme is “Beyond the Dream – Young Voices with Something to Say.”
They sorority picked the theme “because we continually prioritize the voices of our youth with this annual competition,” Deborah Campbell, the group’s spokeswoman, said in the release.
The program’s committee chair, Sheila MG Mitchell, was determined not to let a pandemic be an impediment to producing a premiere event to showcase the talents of students in the Prince William community, Campbell said.
“Pivoting to a virtual production certainly presents its challenges, but it also provides opportunities. For example, our potential audience moves well beyond, Prince William County and the DMV. Plus, virtual attendance provided our special guest, Revered Al Sharpton, the flexibility to say ‘yes’!” Mitchell said in the release.
Organizers continue to have high expectations for the students who have been chosen to participate in this year’s competition.
“Over the past 30 years, the program’s youth orators have amazed and inspired large audiences with thoughtful ideas, impactful delivery and a clear vision and call to action,” Campbell said.
“The 31st year will be a continuation of this spirit of excellence and its virtual nature will broaden the audience that is able to celebrate Dr. King with us,” Sharon McCarthy Andrews, president PWCAC-DST, said in the release. “We can also engage the audience with a new voting feature.”
The MLK Community choir will also be virtual this year. Under the musical direction of Candace Williams, the choir will perform selections that recognize the late Congressman John Lewis, the release said.
PWCAC-DST also invites the local community to participate in its “Day of Service” project in conjunction with the King Day program, the release said.
Donations of travel-size shampoo, conditioner, hand sanitizer, deodorant, and razors will be collected at the Upper Room Christian Cathedral, 10654 Wakeman Court, Manassas, today, Monday, Jan. 18, from 3 to 6 p.m.
Items collected will benefit the clients of Manassas Hunger & Homeless Outreach Ministries of Manassas, the release said.
For more information on the oratorical program, day of service, fundraising efforts and donation opportunities visit www.pwcacdst.org/mlk.