The annual interfaith service held Sunday inside the packed sanctuary of the Community Christian Church would have made the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. smile.
A sea of different skin tones, religious faiths, genders and nationalities stood and applauded a racially-mixed youth choir as they sang a rousing, soulful rendition of “Down by the Riverside.”
The service was part of a weeklong commemoration of King’s birthday and honored his memory by bringing together people from all walks of life.
During the program, an interfaith group led a proclamation litany, which included excerpts from King’s writings, speeches and sermons that emphasized the call to create a “Beloved Community.”
Bunni Copaken received the Evelyn Wasserstrom Award for her years of service as a community volunteer. Copaken was a founding member of the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey and served as board vice-president. She also help create AileyCamp, which uses dance to help youth develop self-esteem, discipline and critical thinking skills.
Copaken also has worked on behalf of other organizations, such as the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, the Kansas City Symphony, the Jewish Heritage Foundation and the Women’s Foundation of Greater Kansas City.
The Wasserstrom award, named for a founder of the annual interfaith service, recognizes work on behalf of minorities and oppressed people in the metropolitan area. It is presented by the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City.
Leonard Pitts, an award-winning nationally syndicated columnist who writes for the Miami Herald, was the keynote speaker.
Pitts said that King’s memory should not be limited to his “I Have a Dream,” speech because the slain civil rights leader was much more than that.
He said in order to realize King’s vision, Americans need to get beyond political and racial labels and find ways to address common concerns.
“It is easy to sit and talk about what needs to be done but people in their own way must be committed to doing what is right to improve their community,” Pitts said.