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Charleston's annual 10-day Martin Luther King Celebration underway

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The New Way Church House Ministries from Holly Hill was among the participants in the annual parade down King Street celebrating the life of civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on January 21, 2019. Charleston's annual Martin Luther King Celebration kicked off Sunday and will continue throughout the week. File/Staff

Charleston's annual Martin Luther King Celebration kicked off Sunday and will continue throughout the week as people come together to highlight the legacy of the civil rights icon.

Anticipated to draw 30,000 guests, the YWCA Greater Charleston's nearly 50-year-old commemoration has grown into the largest MLK celebration in the state. 

Themed “The Power is in You. Advance the Dream," this year's tribute began with worship services at different area churches on Sunday. The celebration lasts 10 days, with events including an ecumenical worship service, racial equity institute, youth poetry slam, concert and parade.

Headliners at this year's breakfast and ecumenical worship service include Sheila C. Johnson, founder and CEO of global hospitality firm Salamander Hotels and Resorts, and Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, presiding prelate of the 10th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Johnson, who co-founded Black Entertainment Television, is the first African American woman to achieve a billion-dollar net worth. McKenzie made history in 2000 when she became the first female bishop in the church's 213-year history.

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Members visiting from New Light Congregation, one of the congregations from the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh where 11 died in a mass shooting in 2018, join in the annual MLK Ecumenical Service at Morris Street Baptist Church on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Charleston. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

The ecumenical service will be at Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, where McKenzie will deliver the keynote address to more than 1,000 expected attendees. While the service has traditionally been held at Morris Street Baptist Church, YWCA Greater Charleston will begin rotating the annual MLK ecumenical service to different houses of worship across the tri-county region in order to reach more Lowcountry residents.

The annual celebration dates back to 1972, four years after King's assassination, when Christine O. Jackson, then-executive director of the Young Women’s Christian Association and first cousin of Coretta Scott King, proposed holding a worship service in the slain activist's honor.

Worship services consisting of a mostly black audience were held annually at Morris Street Baptist Church, where King's legacy was highlighted by speakers, including the leader's father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. 

For other area events honoring Martin Luther King Jr., see My Charleston Weekend in Thursday's edition of Charleston Scene.

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Reach Rickey Dennis at 937-4886. Follow him on Twitter @RCDJunior.

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