Nearly 100 people gathered around Post Office Square in Belfast Jan. 18 to remember Martin Luther King Jr. after a virtual event with speakers that also showed clips of the civil rights icon.

Usually an event would be held at the First Church in Belfast, UCC, but the coronavirus pandemic prevented the indoor gathering, MLK Jr. Day Planning Committee member Meredith Bruskin said.

The event has never been canceled since it began 32 years ago, and the committee wanted to continue the tradition despite COVID-19, she said. There were a couple of speakers and music was played as people held candles along High and Church streets.

The biggest issue planning the event was finding technical help to broadcast the Zoom presentation, which played on the Belfast TV station and local radio station WBFY. Those in attendance were asked to wear masks and social distance while at the outdoor event.

Bruskin did not anticipate so many people would attend the event in below-freezing temperatures, though the crowd was still below the average attendance of 200. She was happy that people felt so strongly about keeping King's memory alive.

“I’m very touched, we had no idea,” she said. “We said to each other ‘you know what, if nobody comes we’ll be there, and that’s OK, it will continue the tradition.’ And yet look how many people came.”

She thinks more white people are realizing the importance of remembering the day after a year when tense civil rights protests highlighted the violence faced by the Black community.

“If you’re a person of color, you know every year is important, but I think a lot of white people have got it this round that it’s really important,” Bruskin said.

Chrissy Fowler attended the event with her 12-year-old son, holding a sign that said “Cultivate Connection, Practice Peace.” For her, the sign represents what King preached.

“I’m just here trying to show up and be in solidarity,” she said. “I just think we need fewer angry people and a lot more people who are trying to come together. And that to me is what this is all about.”

Committee member Bob Shaw said the most important ethic King taught was nonviolence. Bruskin said it is important to remember his call to always fight for justice. She said King knew he would never see the justice he was fighting for in his lifetime, but still fought anyway.