Normally, 250 local residents and city leaders will gather at Verona Villa in Frisco to participate in the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration and scholarship contest, hosted by Linking Cultures of Frisco.
But in 2021, due to a pandemic that has stretched into a roughly 10-month pause on many large events, the celebration will be livestreamed for the first time. For Angelia Pelham, who co-founded Linking Cultures of Frisco with her husband Pastor Dono Pelham, the celebration’s new technological component could garner more interest in the event that typically sells out due to limited space.
“Our hope is that a broader community base is now able to participate and see what happens in that event, and hopefully next year when we actually go back to doing it live, we'll have more people who are interested in attending,” she said.
The components of the event will remain similar to previous celebrations. Viewers will hear songs that harken back to circa 1963, when King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, Pelham said, and they’ll also hear the speech itself delivered by orator Steve Lowenstein.
“I think that's going to be really powerful,” Pelham said. “I think he manages to really channel Dr. King's intonation and just the whole cadence of Dr. King.”
The most significant portion of the event, she said, revolves around Frisco ISD students who will contend for one of three scholarships from the organization in an oratory contest. Students had to submit a three-minute video relating to the theme, "Many Cultures ... One Dream.” Pelham said they received videos from about 20 applicants, which the organization had to whittle down to five students who will compete Monday night. The five students are from Centennial, Reedy, Independence, Lebanon Trail and Liberty high schools.
The 11th iteration of the local celebration comes after a summer during which Frisco saw peaceful protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death after a police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee to Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes in May. Pelham said King’s mantra is about peaceful protest and unity and that his legacy has always been the same.
“He’s always been about unity and pulling people together from different cultures and different backgrounds to walk together literally hand in hand as one,” she said. “And I think that just rings home even more this year.”
The celebration will also come just under two weeks after a violent mob touting support for President Donald Trump infiltrated the U.S. Capitol and resulted in multiple deaths. Calls for unity poured in, including from politicians and executives, following the violence.
Pelham said the polarization in today’s world is not unlike the environment that King spoke to in 1963.
“I'm hoping that next Monday will be a great time for Frisco residents to take some time, hopefully join in with us and really see that you can have diversity in your city, but you can also still have very much a strong sense of unity,” she said.
The livestream begins 7 p.m. Jan. 18 at linkingculturesoffrisco.org.