Denver’s Marade group is cutting scholarships and passing a bucket for donations after losing major sponsors

Sponsors pulled at least $57,000 in support because protestors disrupted last year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Marade.

staff photo
Long-time Martin Luther King Jr. Marade Chair Vern Howard holds up a bucket for donations, the first time collections have been made in the event's history. Jan. 16, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Long-time Marade Chair Vern Howard holds up a bucket for donations, the first time collections have been made in the event's history. Jan. 16, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The group that organizes Denver’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Marade says it lost at least $57,000 in sponsorships for this year’s event because protestors from Black Lives Matter disrupted last year’s parade.

Facing a major funding gap for the year, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Colorado Holiday Commission decided to pass donation buckets around for the first time in the event’s history. An initial count shows the commission raised less than $3,000, not including any donations that might have been made online, the group told Denverite on Tuesday.

The longtime leader of the MLK commission and chair of the Marade’s planning committee, Vern L. Howard, says while the future of the annual Marade — simultaneous march and parade — is secure, the organization overall is on less solid footing.

As of Tuesday, the commission was “about $7,000 upside down, and that’s just to pay the bills for the events that have taken place already,” Howard said.

In 2017, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Colorado Holiday Commission needs $100,000 to $125,000 to fund the Marade, the annual We Are People youth conference, student scholarships and other events focused on promoting the vision of MLK and the Civil Rights Movement. It typically costs $30,000 to $50,000 for the vendors, security, permits and other costs associated with just with the Marade, according to Howard.

The organization’s entire budget comes from donations and sponsorships, which became a problem after two sponsors reduced their funding following the 2016 Marade and at least three others cut their funding entirely. Altogether, about $57,000 was lost, Howard said.

On Jan. 10, a sponsor reportedly cut $10,000.

Howard declined to provide the sponsors’ names in hopes he’ll be able to work with them in the future, but he said most cut funding in response to members from Black Lives Matter 5280 heckling speakers and sponsors last year.

The local Black Lives Matter chapter didn’t immediately return an inquiry from Denverite and has declined to talk to other media.

“I’m not quite sure I’m ready to throw in the towel and say that the Marade is in jeopardy. I don’t believe that for one moment,” he said. “What is in jeopardy are all the other programs that we put on. Those are the things that are in jeopardy because the Marade is the major funding event for those programs.”

It’s hard to grasp the full financial picture of the commission. The nonprofit’s 2014 IRS Form 990 — the most recent tax filing available — showed $0 in revenue, expenses and assets. The year prior, the organization reported getting $14,200 in revenue, spending $29,408 and closing the year with $19,927 in assets, according to documents obtained from foundationcenter.org.

A call to the commission’s treasurer wasn’t immediately returned Tuesday afternoon. But Howard said given the financials, the commission is planning to scale back this year.

“We’ve canceled the youth conference, and we don’t have not one cent — not one cent, honestly — to give in scholarships,” he said.

The commission has reportedly never faced such dire financial straits. Going forward, the group is looking at ways to prevent it from ending up in this situation again, including creating contracts for sponsors and explaining the event better.

“We’re going to explain to the sponsors we have no control over outside agitators. None. No control,” Howard said. “And there’s no way we can say they are not going to do it again because that’s why it’s a marade, my friend. It’s a march and a parade. March means to demonstrate and to protest. Parade means to celebrate.”

Ultimately, Howard is confident the commission won’t have to hand over the reigns of the Marade or stop the event.

“Before we allow that to happen, we will go back to the way it was in the early ’80s when we used nothing but a megaphone to get the word out,” he said. “I believe we’d be able to raise the funds for the street permit and the Denver Police Department.”

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