Performers march in Baltimore’s 2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade. Photo courtesy of Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts.

Baltimore will have a Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade in 2023 after all.

Mayor Brandon Scott tweeted on Sunday that the parade will take place as it has in the past on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on the federal holiday set aside to honor the slain civil rights leader, which is Jan. 16 this year.

“There will be a MLK Day parade noon on January 16th,” Scott’s tweet said. “My focus during the parade will be very simple! #wemuststopkillingeachother.”

Scott’s pledge reverses an announcement last Thursday from the Baltimore Office of Promotion and The Arts (BOPA), which said there would be no parade in 2023 and recommended that Baltimoreans take part in a “day of service” instead.

The announcement drew sharp criticism from a wide range of Baltimoreans, including Congressman Kweisi Mfume, former Mayor Sheila Dixon and City Councilman Eric Costello, and prompted Scott on Friday to call for BOPA’s board to “remove” CEO Donna Drew Sawyer by Jan. 15, King’s actual birthday.

Sawyer, who has served three mayors since 2018, remains in place at BOPA as of Sunday, according to The Baltimore Sun. She has not responded to requests for comment.

This will be the first time that the parade, a Baltimore tradition for decades, has been held since 2020. The MLK parades were cancelled in 2021 and 2022 due to public health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

BOPA’s now-reversed announcement last week said the 2023 parade was not being cancelled because of COVID but was a “conscious decision” to honor King with a day of service rather than a parade.

Others said later that BOPA, which has also cancelled Artscape, the Baltimore Book Festival and Light City for the past three years, did not do the advance preparation work needed to put on the parade.

 On Friday, BOPA issued a “clarifying statement” to its announcement on Thursday, saying that the ultimate decision to hold or cancel the parade comes from the mayor’s office, not BOPA. Scott, in a Jan. 6 letter to BOPA board president Brian Lyles, said Sawyer failed to “prioritize” the parade.

Scott had voiced support for Sawyer as recently as October, when he appeared with her at the Parkway Theatre during a news conference held to announce that Artscape will be returning in 2023, after a four-year hiatus. But his Jan. 6 letter to Lyles made it clear that he had changed his mind.

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

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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

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