CASA GRANDE — The Casa Grande Unity March has been a Casa Grande Elementary School District tradition for more than a decade.
Every year students from Villago Middle School would gather on the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day and, joined by other students, walk from the Len Colla Recreation Center to Casa Grande City Hall in a show of unity and peace.
This year, due to concerns over COVID-19, the event has been canceled.
Jeff Lavender, principal at Villago Middle School and now a member of the City Council, has organized the event each year. Canceling this year's march was a "huge disappointment," he said.
"Given the current infection rates with the pandemic and CDC guidelines, the decision was made to cancel the annual Unity March this year," he said. "We look forward to continuing our tradition next January."
The unity march has been a tradition in Casa Grande for more than a decade. It's aimed at honoring Martin Luther King Jr. by re-creating the peaceful demonstrations of the civil rights era.
Students often carry signs with slogans of peace. Prior to the march, they take part in essay and art competitions and winners are typically announced at the event.
The event, which was started by Lavender several years ago to teach students about the civil rights movement of the 1960s, is known for bringing together students, civic leaders and members of the community for an assembly in front of Casa Grande City Hall.
Lavender said this year, students will still observe the holiday, but events will be virtual. Students in the district are not scheduled to return to the classroom until later this month.
"We are doing Unity Week at Villago this week," Lavender said. "I am doing a virtual assembly with each grade level talking about Dr. King and his 'I Have a Dream' speech in 1963."
A federal holiday, MLK Day is observed each year on the third Monday in January to celebrate King's legacy. It's also a day of service, with people volunteering throughout their communities as a way of honoring King.