COVID-19 is still preventing groups from gathering in person, but Santa Monica College and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Westside Coalition are ready for their 36th annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which will be held virtually for the first time ever.

The free event honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is set to be held online at 9 a.m. Monday, Jan. 18, at the website www.mlkjrwestside.org, according to coalition chair Darlene Evans, who said this week that past iterations of the event have been some of the largest and most diverse celebrations of MLK Jr. in Southern California.

Keynote speakers include the first African American woman chosen to be Speaker of the California Assembly, Rep. Karen Bass, D-Culver City, and Tamika Butler, a national expert and lecturer on issues related to the built environment, equity, anti-racism, diversity and inclusion, Evans added, stating the theme for this year is: “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”

And the annual Community Involvement Fair is also set to make a virtual return this year to showcase a variety of community organizations.

“Congresswoman Bass is very encouraging so we thought we’d host her to talk about what we’ve been going through, what she’s looking forward to and how we all need to get involved to help make this a better world,” Evans said. “And Tamika Butler will speak on that as well but she’ll mainly cover ‘The Other America.’ So, we’re all talking about topics that are very relevant in today’s world and we’re looking forward to everybody taking a look at it and hopefully walking away inspired. Because there’s a lot of work that we need to do in this world and hopefully people will be inspired to get started and get moving.”

Evans noted the coalition is far from the only organization who is looking to celebrate a Monday’s holiday. The MLK Freedom Celebration, formerly the Interfaith Prayer Breakfast, is scheduled for 8 a.m. Friday, Jan. 15, and the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra’s Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Concert will occur Saturday, Jan.16 at the website www.smsymphony.org.

“Things will look a bit different this year since life has been disrupted in a major way and going from in-person to virtual is a major monumental change, but the spirit of the people involved and those that participate with us is just as strong — if not better — so we’re confident it’ll be a success and enjoyable for everyone,” Evans said. “It was a very, very different process this year in trying to put all of these little segments that we’d like to include in our program, but it all worked out in the end and we’re very, very happy with the product that we have ended up; and we hope that you all will join us at mlkjrwestside.org on Monday January, 18 at 9 a.m. to see it.”

Brennon@smdp.com