The YWCA Greater Charleston’s 49th annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations kick off on Thursday, transformed into mostly a virtual event to ensure the health and safety of participants.

Registration and the full schedule can be found at YWCAGC.org.

While many of the Lowcountry’s prominent celebrations and events are being canceled, YWCA Executive Director LeVonda Brown didn’t see that as an option. Fortunately, last year gave them the experience needed to quickly adapt their model for virtual events.

“We knew that we wouldn’t cancel,” Brown said. “We knew we would be faced with this decision, and we knew that we would figure it out. We would not cancel the tribute to Dr. King.”

But, the transition wasn’t easy, even with a committed team and strong support from the community and sponsors.

“The challenge is in making it feel,” Brown said. “The thing we are so used to with MLK celebrations, whether its the youth speaking or the worships service, is that we are used to touching people and networking and shaking hands — filling the ballroom or the church with worship — so, the challenge has just been bringing the feeling and the emotion that we all feel when we gather together for the celebration, bringing that to the screen.”

Brown said she and the organization are working to ensure the events don’t look too different from what people are used to, other than that participants sitting in their own homes or offices.

The events kick off this Thursday with the MLK Blood Drive,. All members of the public of any blood type are encouraged to sign up for slots between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. online, using code MLK.

The American Red Cross’ Bloodmobile will be in the parking lot of Revelation of Christ Church, and donors will receive free COVID-19 antibody testing.

Brown said the reason this year’s celebrations are starting with a blood drive is due to thee decline in blood donations through the pandemic. This makes it harder to treat patients with sickle-cell disease, a disease that disproportionately affects people of color, who rely heavily on blood transfusions.