This year’s local observance commemorating the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. concludes on the same day that Barack Obama is sworn in for a second presidential term.
Local holiday organizers say both events serve to continue King’s legacy and the ongoing march toward economic and racial equality.
“I do believe that this is a very important moment in history,” said Cecelia Robinson, an organizer of the celebration in Liberty.
The 10 days of events, which began Saturday, mark the 44th year the Kansas City area has celebrated the birthday of the civil rights leader, who was assassinated April 4, 1968. In 1994, Congress designated the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday as a national day of service.
Only a handful of events are scheduled during the hour the inauguration takes place. Some organizers have altered their schedules. The Liberty celebration, for example, will begin at 1 p.m. instead of 10 a.m. so people can watch the inauguration, Robinson said.
Many communities and local organizations will recognize King’s message in the coming days. But the celebration sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City remains the area’s largest and most attended, organizers say.
Those events include an urban summit, a musical tribute, an interfaith service, a youth leadership workshop and the annual Black Achievers dinner.
This year’s theme is “Remember, Reignite, Reclaim the Dream.” The logo features an artist’s rendition of the King Memorial in Washington. King’s form emerges halfway out of a granite mound, an image that symbolizes King’s unfinished work.
“The principles by which Dr. King lived and died for are not fully realized until they are realized in the hands, in the feet and in the minds and in the souls of those who have inherited his legacy and the tasks that are sent down to our hands,” said the Rev. Robert Hill, senior pastor of Community Christian Church and one of the local organizers.
“Every year what the holiday affords us is an opportunity to remember, reignite and reclaim those things which Dr. King worked so hard for.”
As it does each year, the observance emphasizes youth development and nonviolence education.
“It is critical for children to get a hold of the dream in this day and age because in some ways things haven’t changed,” said the Rev. Nelson L. Thompson, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City. “It is up to them to fulfill Dr. King’s dream of equality.”
This year will mark the 50th anniversary of the historic march on Washington, where King delivered his oft-quoted “I Have a Dream” speech.
“The dream remains the same but in some ways, it has probably expanded and it is more complex and has become a global dream shared with others throughout the world,” Thompson said.
The problems of inadequate education and economic and racial inequity continue to serve as challenges in the urban core, Hill said.
“What King did in the last years of his life was to turn towards economic justice,” he said. “That still remains something we all yearn for among people of good will and that we are in this boat together.
“We may have come over in different ships, but we are in the same boat.”
The SCLC celebrations will conclude next Monday with the mass celebration at St. Stephen Baptist Church at Truman Road and the Paseo. Andre’ T. Butler, executive vice president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City, will be the keynote speaker.