South suburban schools gather virtually to honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King

American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 - 1968) at a press conference in London, September 1964
American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 - 1968) at a press conference in London, September 1964 Photo credit Reg Lancaster/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Martin Luther King Jr. Day is usually a day of public celebrations. There are school assemblies, public presentations, prayer breakfasts, and other gatherings to honor Dr. King's life and work.

Though due to the pandemic, public presentations will have to wait until next year. Instead, several south suburban high schools and colleges gathered virtually Monday to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The virtual ceremony, which was broadcast on YouTube, was a joint presentation of Thornton Township High Schools District 205, Thornton Township, and South Suburban Community College. It featured musical performances, poetry readings, student presentations, speeches from school officials, and a keynote speech from the Rev. Dr. Ozzie Smith, a retired pastor of the Covenant United Church of Christ in South Holland.

This King Day observance comes on the heels of a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, a bruising presidential campaign, and racial justice protests that were in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Rev. Dr. Ozzie Smith said this summer's protests were the latest chapter in a long story.

"That call did not begin with Black Lives Matter. No, no, no, no. Black Lives Matter is good. It is a repeat chorus sung previously by Dr. King," he said.

Rev. Dr. Smith said the events of the last year forced students to see Dr. King's message in a new light.

"2020 for the first time does not mean good vision, but a maddening loss of vision and a pandemic that slowed us down. It was a year we would like to forget but we cannot, because it is still hanging on," he said.

"These youngsters in 205 and all other districts, they need to know that old school, we might be old, but we know something. We didn't get old being no fool."

Dr. Lynette Stokes, President of South Suburban Community College said it is up to students to complete Dr King's work.

"We know his work is not finished, but we honor his legacy by carrying on his mission in all that we do," Dr. Stokes said.