WELLFLEET — Following months of racial reckoning inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this was supposed to be a big year for Wellfleet’s 18-year-old Martin Luther King Day observance — the “WalKING celebration” — on Jan 18.
But the MLK Day planning committee has decided to pull the plug on the traditional march, and on any live events at all, except for making a few SUVs available in front of Wellfleet Preservation Hall to collect nonperishable foods for the Grace Chapel pantry. The food drop-off goes from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The decision was wrenching for the six organizers and followed many debates. Last week they decided that the outdoor walking meditation, which has attracted over 300 people in the past, would be too risky.
“Of all the years,” said playwright Candace Perry, a founder and organizer of the event. “It would have been a real celebration, and we would have had a wonderful choice of speakers.”
The traditional MLK Day breakfast gathering will this year be virtual, at 10 a.m. on Jan. 18 on Zoom. The speakers will be “dynamic and very relevant,” said the Rev. Wesley Williams, retired pastor of the Orleans United Methodist Church and the convener of the MLK Action Team, part of the Nauset Interfaith Association.
The hour-long Zoom (Williams promises it won’t be longer) will feature Cape Cod Voices, a coalition of young people of color and their allies who grew up on Cape Cod. They will talk about the modern-day racism in their lives. (Register for the breakfast at nausetinterfaith.org.)
“They are the heart of the program,” said Williams.
Williams, who is African American, came to Cape Cod 15 years ago from Cambridge and has found that the main issue here is “a lack of contact and experience with people of color,” he said. “It’s almost 99 percent white, and even the washashores did not grow up in close contact with people of color. So their main image is formed through media.”
Nothing can replace prejudice better than forming a relationship with a person of color, he said. And, Williams added, it’s okay to approach a person of color whom you are not close with and ask them to talk about their experiences of racism.
It will not be regarded as rude or intrusive, Williams said, if the question is asked with respect and humility. Then, he added, let the person answer in their own way. Don’t try to control the conversation, he advised, just listen.
“Don’t sound like you want to learn about an animal in a zoo,” he cautioned.
As repetitive as it can be for people of color to explain racism to white people, most understand honest communication is important in order to create meaningful change, he said.
“Cape Cod Voices will point out that we cannot use the excuse that there are no people of color here,” said Williams.
The MLK Day tradition in Wellfleet began in 2003, during the invasion of Iraq, when anti-war activists decided to hold a full month of events to protest war and inequality, said Harriet Korim, a founder and organizer.
For the kick-off event, organizers held a silent meditative walk on Martin Luther King Day. James Kershner of Dennis, a follower of Thich Nhat Hanh and a longtime activist, Korim, and others were among the short list of participants. But it quickly grew, with music, food, and art, first at the Wellfleet library and then — when it grew too big for the library in 2012 — at Wellfleet Preservation Hall.
The point was always to attract all age groups, Korim said. Children and their art quickly became a central theme. Rudelle Falkenburg’s preschool students were among the first; now many local schools contribute art and posters. They brightened the windows of closed shops along Main Street.
Early on, when the event was still small enough, the walk ended with people entering the library as a film of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was shown. Many children saw and heard it there for the first time.
The participation of children was what brought Joe DaLuz, the founder of the Cape’s NAACP chapter, to Wellfleet every year until his death at 87 in 2016. He would drive from Hyannis even during blizzards, Korim said.
“He would say, ‘I come for the children’s art,’ ” said Korim.
This year, the organizers plan to “share the recipe” and invite people to hold their own “small-but-mighty” walks, make posters, meditate on the movement, and go for a walk wherever they are.
Send photographs or art, posters, or poems to ArtPeaceMakers on Instagram and tag posts with the hashtags #earthjusticemarch, #MLKwalKING2021, #MLKlives2021, #BlackLivesMatter, and #BlackLivesMatterToCapeCodders.