Participants in the Bluffton 2023 MLK Day Parade walked through the streets of Old Town from Town Hall to Oyster Factory Park. GWYNETH J. SAUNDERS

A moving ceremonial program, lively march and community picnic were the highlights of Bluffton’s 2023 MLK Day Memorial Program in Ulmer Theatre at Bluffton Town Hall on Jan. 16.

The day’s events may have been planned by adults, but it was the youth who made the real impact with their contributions, particularly in the morning’s program. 

Jabari Gordon, event MC, introduced each part of the ceremony. After the town’s new Police Chief Joe Babkiewicz read the opening prayer, the young people took over, with Alanna Douglas reading scripture, and Nylah Bolden offering a prayer. 

Brodee Ashby, a student at Michael C. Riley Elementary School, read a portion of King’s speech. He and his sister Quinlee wanted to be a part of the service.

“He made one of the biggest changes in our society ever,” Brodee said after the program. “Because of Martin Luther King Jr.’s actions, “I get to have more friends, and meet more people.”

The ceremony wasn’t limited to spoken tributes. Members of Dani’s Dance Dynamic from Beaufort stirred many emotions from cheers to tears with their expressive and dramatic moves. 

Pastor Bennie Jenkins from First Zion Missionary Baptist Church gave a moving speech on the day’s theme of “Together we can be the dream.”

“We have it in us to bring good to the table of life,” Jenkins said. “If we… become unified in this dream, we all win. Our fuel for the journey is love.”

After singing the closing song, “We Shall Overcome,” audience members filed out onto sidewalk, and waited for the start of the march. 

At the head of the line was the annual march banner followed by the Bluffton High School Army JROTC unit. In addition to a few groups with banners, there was a symbolic birthday cake mounted atop a golf cart in celebration of King’s birthday.

The route led up Pritchard Street to Bruin and on then Calhoun where it turned left and proceeded past shops and tourists, many of whom applauded while others joined the march. 

The culmination was the community picnic at Oyster Factory Park on Wharf Street where volunteers served up hotdogs, chips, barbecue, barbecued chicken, potato salad, green beans, corn and cookies. 

This gave marchers a chance to mingle with Bluffton residents and greet visitors, such as Sharon Anderson, a North Carolina resident who was visiting for her birthday.

“I think it’s important to commemorate the day,” she said. “It’s impossible to comprehend the legacy and sacrifice of Dr. King. He wanted to help all people, not just people of color. I think it’s important that our children learn what today is about.”

The annual celebration was organized by the Bluffton MLK Observance Committee.

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.