Ridgefield’s MLK celebration goes virtual for 25th year

Mark Robinson of Ridgefield hosts the Martin Luther King Day celebration in the Ridgefield Playhouse. Monday, Jan. 20, 2014

Mark Robinson of Ridgefield hosts the Martin Luther King Day celebration in the Ridgefield Playhouse. Monday, Jan. 20, 2014

Scott Mullin / Scott Mullin

RIDGEFIELD — This year, Jan. 18 marks the 25th anniversary of Ridgefield’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, honoring the legacy of the great civil rights leader with an awards ceremony, speakers and performances.

This year, the resident who started this event will be recognized for his unique contribution.

Every year The Spirit of Dr. King Award is given to a Ridgefield resident for their outstanding commitment to community service and selflessness, to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King. This year will be special, not only because of its 25th anniversary, but because for the first time it will take place virtually.

Despite the online format, First Selectman Rudy Marconi said the holiday is more important than ever.

“There’s no doubt about MLK Jr.’s message of peace is highlighted during the times that we live in today. Couldn’t be more important,” Marconi said.

“Although this year it will be done a little differently,” he added, “it will still be an event worthy of celebrating 25 years of holding this event and look at how far we’ve come since the ceremony began in our town 25 years ago.”

So it’s not surprising that The Spirit of Dr. King Award will go to Mark Robinson, who started the event.

Executive Director of the Ridgefield Playhouse and member of MLK Jr. Celebration Day Committee Allison Stockel readily agreed that Robinson was the best choice as recipient of this year’s The Spirit of Dr. King Award.

“When I first started working on it with Mark and Rudy I always felt like this was such a great thing to bring to Ridgefield and Mark has always had such incredible passion about it,” she said. “He doesn’t just say ‘Hey let’s do this this year,’ he wants it to be something special every single year and he’s been that way about it for 25 years. So once we kind of figured out this is the 25th anniversary year, Rudy and I both felt like there’s no way we can’t honor Mark for creating this amazing thing we do every year.”

Marconi also thanked Stockel for organizing the event, helping Robinson, and using the Playhouse venue. He added that there might be a benefit with the event being online, more might attend.

Stockel agreed, “I do think that because it’s going to be available on the YouTube channel basically all day and at any time, anyone can watch it. I think people will take the opportunity to view it because maybe normally they wouldn’t be able to come.”

She added, “I also think it’s interesting that when the Playhouse did some virtual shows, we had people from Germany watching, from England. Anyone from all over the world can literally watch the event.”

In addition to the awards ceremony, which will be available on the town’s YouTube channel, the virtual event will include performances by The Ridgefield Chorale, KEYS students (including the Talmadge Hill Choir), The Phil Ramone Youth Orchestra, The Ridgefield Diwali Committee, Poet Laureate Barb Jennes, students from A Better Chance, and actress Kimberly Wilson, who has also been a part of the entertainment every year since the first celebration. Sharing their own reflections on Dr. King, Rabbi Jon Haddon and Deacon Arthur Miller will give the invocation and benediction.

Over the years, the town’s MLK Jr. Day celebration has changed and grown — from standing on the steps outside of the Community Center, to becoming a larger event in the basement of town hall, to becoming even more celebratory when moved to The Ridgefield Playhouse in 2013.

The words of Martin Luther King Jr. have been remembered year after year. The campaign for a federal holiday in King’s honor began soon after his assassination in 1968, but it wasn’t until 1983, when President Ronald Regan signed the holiday into law, and it was first observed three years later. At first, some states resisted observing the holiday as such, giving it alternative names, or combining it with other holidays. It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.

The full celebration will be available on the The Ridgefield Playhouse YouTube channel on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 18, beginning at 11 a.m. and will be available for viewing anytime thereafter.