MLK Day parades canceled in Fort Myers, Naples. Other events planned in Fort Myers.

Two popular Martin Luther King Jr. Day parades won’t be happening this year…

MLK Day parades canceled in Fort Myers, Naples. Other events planned in Fort Myers.
MLK Day parades canceled in Fort Myers, Naples. Other events planned in Fort Myers. 1

Charles Runnells
 
| Fort Myers News-Press

Two popular Martin Luther King Jr. Day parades won’t be happening this year in Fort Myers and Naples, organizers confirmed. Both events have been canceled.

The annual parades are Southwest Florida traditions stretching back for decades. They’ve never been canceled before, organizers said.

“It was a pretty difficult decision,” says Vincent Keeys, president of the Collier County branch of the NAACP, which organizes the Naples parade. “It has a long history here in Collier County.”

Organizers blame the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Cases have been skyrocketing in Southwest Florida since early December.

“The numbers are beginning to go up again,” says Martin Byrd, president of the Dunbar Festival Committee, which organizes the annual MLK Day March and Park Celebration in Fort Myers. “I don’t want to host a superspreader event.”

More: Rescheduled concerts, canceled events in Fort Myers, Naples

And: Canceled: Edison Fest parade, Junior Parade in Fort Myers

The parades join other major Southwest Florida events that have been canceled during the pandemic, including the Edison Festival of Light Grand Parade, the Cape Coral Arts & Music Festival, the Naples Christmas parade and most New Year’s Eve block parties and fireworks shows.

Parade organizers made their decisions in November and December, but hadn’t publicized the change. Organizers for the Naples parade issued a news release Monday afternoon announcing the canceled event.

“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, our National Office of the NAACP has a mandate for all branches, ‘No in person gatherings,'” the news release said. “Even though the activities are outdoors, we’re unable to guarantee social distancing and prevention of any infection.

“We would love for all people of Collier County to remember Dr. King’s dream and renew our commitment to bringing forth positive change throughout our nation.”

Organizers of the Naples parade won’t be hosting another event to mark the occasion. But in Fort Myers, the Dunbar Festival Committee plans to hold a weekend’s worth of other activities, including an outdoor, socially distant celebration on the holiday with limited vendors (See more information at end of this article story).

More: Concerts are back at Hertz Arena with new COVID-19 rules

The Fort Myers march was started in 1983 by the Lee County NAACP and then taken over by the festival committee, Byrd says. The Naples parade began 24 years ago, Keeys said.

The Fort Myers event calls itself a march as a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights marches in Selma and elsewhere. “It’s commemorative … of those types of walks that stick out in civil rights history,” Byrd says. “It’s kind of stepping in their shoes.”

About 200-300 people usually take part in the Fort Myers march, Byrd says. The Naples Parade draws about 3,000, Keeys says. That doesn’t include the thousands of people who show up to watch the parades.

Connect with this reporter: Call 239-335-0368 or email crunnells@gannett.com. Or connect on social media at Charles Runnells (Facebook), @charlesrunnells (Twitter) and @crunnells1 (Instagram).

What: MLK Day Celebration in Fort Myers

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Jan. 18

Where: STARS Complex, 2980 Edison Ave, Fort Myers

More about the event: The outdoor celebration includes vendors, food, speakers and live performers. It’s part of a weekend of activities that includes an after-hours social event with TV host Lee Pitts from 5-10 p.m. Friday at Celsius Night Club (guests are asked to wear all black) and a gospel concert featuring local church choirs and a candlelight vigil from 4-7 p.m. Saturday at the STARS Complex.

Admission: All events are free

Info: facebook.com/dunbarfestivalcommitteeinc

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