Mary Sanchez

Ralph Wright was a leader devoted to Martin Luther King Jr.’s memory

Updated: 2014-01-02T03:32:47Z

By MARY SANCHEZ

The Kansas City Star

First will be the mourning. Then thoughts of a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration will resume.

The strategy for Saturday’s wake and funeral services for the Rev. Ralph Gordon Wright would make Wright proud. The minister died of complications Monday after struggling with renal failure, his daughter said.

Wright was only 52. And he was better known in the black community than out of it, never reaching the mainstream recognition of other ministers.

And yet it was Wright, with a makeshift storefront church, who convinced Martin Luther King Jr.’s son to come to Kansas City on the 30th anniversary of the civil rights leader’s murder.

How he managed that is a testament to Wright’s passion. He revered King, his messages of non-violence and compassion for the poor and disenfranchised of any race. For years, Wright organized commemorations for King. They were always separate from the larger January King events here, which later this month will bring Julian Bond, former chairman of the NAACP, as a keynote speaker.

This year was to be no different for Wright.

Several of the people Wright tapped to participate in the 2014 plans have been replaying his voice on their cellphone messages. Until close to his death, he’d been making calls, gathering participants. Several said they would meet after the funeral at Central Christian Church and decide about carrying through with Wright’s plans.

But they’ll also likely reminisce about April 1998, when Martin Luther King III came to Kansas City at Wright’s beckoning. It was King’s secretary Wright first impressed, said Alvin Sykes, a local activist who drove King during his Kansas City stay.

The whole thing almost didn’t happen. Coretta Scott King insisted that her son have round-the-clock police protection. Wright couldn’t afford to hire off-duty officers. Sykes called officials he knew at the U.S. Justice Department and Overland Park police because King would be staying at a hotel there. They got the protection. King spoke at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center, two area churches and a synagogue.

It was a fleeting moment of rubbing elbows with the famous. Otherwise, Wright spent years staging fasts and rallies to fight gang and drug violence, the problems of those lacking a good education and joblessness.

“It takes all kinds of leadership to represent the total picture,” Sykes said. “Rev. Wright represented what he believed in all the way to his last breath.”

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to msanchez@kcstar.com.

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