Three years ago, Knowa Johnson, president of United Group of Artists music association, also known as UGA Live, and his wife Mokah-Jasmine Johnson, president of the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement, experienced an incident in a bar that would later change the way Athens celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The couple was in a bar when they encountered a drink labeled as a racial slur, which shocked and upset them.
After the Johnsons experienced the incident, they decided to begin their launch of activism by hosting a march against General Beauregard’s, the bar that released the drink.
“When we saw that situation come out in the paper about that drink, we felt like there weren’t any repercussions for it from the city. We decided to reach out to some people and to protest this bar,” Knowa Johnson said.
The march on MLK Day three years ago had a great number of participants, so the Johnsons decided to host the first Athens MLK Day Parade and Music Festival the following year. There was a greater turnout the second year, and it’s been growing every year, Knowa Johnson said.
The third annual Athens MLK Day Parade and Music Festival will take place on Monday, Jan. 21 in downtown Athens, from 3-6 p.m. The event will be produced and sponsored by UGA Live.
“I think a lot of times it’s easy to see MLK Day as just a day off, but I’m appreciative that there are opportunities in Athens to serve your community or participate in a parade, or even just to go see it."
—Nia Freeman, UGA student
The event is expected to grow each year, and the hosts find themselves needing more barricades, officers and space every year. This is the first year they will have marching bands involved, Knowa Johnson said. He wants the parade to bring the community together more during this polarized political environment that exists, and he said there is a lot of diversity.
“You see young kids there [and] teenagers. You see elders [and] students. So it’s a very good mixture of what’s really here and represents this town. That’s one thing I love about it is the diversity,” Knowa Johnson said.
People around Athens participate in the parade and festival, as well as other activities related to MLK Day, such as the MLK Day of Service.
“I think a lot of times it’s easy to see MLK Day as just a day off, but I’m appreciative that there are opportunities in Athens to serve your community or participate in a parade, or even just to go see it,” said Nia Freeman, third-year human development and family science major.
Knowa Johnson said the event is important because of the word of Martin Luther King Jr., and the message that King shared is something that everyone can stand in solidarity with.
“There wasn’t a lot of events downtown that we saw that brought out a diverse group of people that represented Athens, and that enabled them to engage together. This is an actual event where they’re standing in solidarity because [of] the message of Martin Luther King,” Knowa Johnson said.