Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade Back On in Baltimore

| January 9, 2023 | 0 Comments

After a back-and-forth between Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott and the partially City-funded Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts (BOPA), the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade is no longer cancelled, according to Mayor Scott.

In a Tweet yesterday, Mayor Scott said: “There will be a MLK Day parade noon on January 16th kicking off at the normal starting point. My focus during the parade will be very simple! #wemuststopkillingeachother.” 

According to Councilman Eric T. Costello, whose district encompasses Downtown, the parade will begin at noon on January 16th. It will take place at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and Eutaw Pl.

Mayor Scott’s announcement comes after BOPA put out a press release this past Thursday cancelling the event in lieu of a Day of Service.

On Friday, BOPA followed up with a press release stating it doesn’t “make unilateral decisions on mayoral events” including the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade. The statement read:

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade is a mayoral event. At the request of the Mayor, the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts (BOPA) produces civic events like fireworks and the MLK Day Parade for the City of Baltimore because of our experience with large public events.

During the COVID health crisis in 2021 and 2022, the MLK parade was canceled due to mandated health restrictions imposed by the mayor’s office and the health department. This year, the decision was made to honor Dr. King with a day of service, in keeping with the spirit of his life and legacy.

BOPA does not have the authority to, nor would we ever assume to, make unilateral decisions on mayoral events. BOPA will continue to provide enthusiastic support of the mayor’s civic events whenever we are called upon to do so.

On Friday, according to a letter shared Mikenzie Frost of Fox45, Mayor Scott called for BOPA CEO Donna Drew Sawyer to be removed and said he would not fund BOPA in the upcoming fiscal year if Sawyer is not removed by January 15, 2023.

The letter to Brian D. Lyles, president of the board of directors of BOPA, from Mayor Scott read:

Dear Mr. Lyles,

I am writing to request that the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts Board of Directors (BOPA) remove Donna Drew Sawyer as Chief Executive Office. It has become clear that BOPA is not meeting the expectations of the city and is causing significant disappointment and frustration for the residents of Baltimore.

Over the past two years, there have been numerous missteps and shortcomings, including low staff, the flawed scheduling of Artscape on Rosh Hashanah, and their recent decision not to prioritize the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade. These issues demonstrate a clear lack of effective leadership at BOPA.

I have lost confidence in Ms. Sawyer’s ability to effectively lead the organization and carry out BOPA’s mission.

I will not fund BOPA in the upcoming fiscal year and I will not renew BOPA’s contract when the current one expires if Ms. Sawyer is not removed by January 15, 2023. If the Board fails to act swiftly, I am prepared to transition the organization’s responsibilities to other City agencies who will be able to uplift Baltimore’s arts community while maintaining our traditions.

As the Chief Executive of the City, it is my duty to ensure that our community is able to participate in meaningful and memorable events. I look forward to discussing how we can work together to move BOPA in the right direction.

The Baltimore Banner reported the following from BOPA:

Staffers were informed by email at 9:46 p.m. Saturday that no decisions have been made regarding Sawyer’s tenure following a board meeting after Scott’s ultimatum.

“The Board met today and is working to determine the best way forward for BOPA as a whole. Once a decision has been made the Board will share it internally first,” a BOPA staffer wrote in the email update.

From Councilman Costello in Baltimore Fishbowl:

Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello, who chairs the council’s Ways and Means Committee and whose district includes part of the parade route, said he believes it’s possible to have both a parade and a day of service, as Baltimore has done in the past.

“BOPA in cancelling the 2023 MLK Jr. Parade justified it as a conscious decision to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy through a day of service rather than a parade,” he said in an email message. “A parade and a day of service are not mutually exclusive. In addition, BOPA is, yet again, in clear violation of their contractual obligation to the City of Baltimore. I look forward to having a public discussion on this matter in excruciating detail in front of the City Council’s Ways & Means Committee.”

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