For the last three decades, suburban communities in the Kansas City area have celebrated the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. in many forms.
As this year’s festivities continue that tradition, two communities have found new ways to promote the civil rights leader’s message of racial harmony and equality.
Organizers of the King celebration in Lee’s Summit will modify their traditional program so they can hold a communitywide event that promotes healthy lifestyles.
The festivities in Raytown will feature an essay contest where school children are charged with proposing a project that promotes King’s vision of service. A local church has pledged to donate $3,000 and 1,000 volunteer hours to implement the winning project.
“The more that we can do across lines, the richer we will be and the better the gumbo of humanity will be,” said the Rev. Bob Hill, senior pastor of Community Christian Church in Kansas City and co-organizer of the annual Interfaith Worship Service.
The theme for the Lee’s Summit celebration is “Taking Strides to a Healthier You.” It will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. Jan. 20 in the Pavilion at John Knox Village, 520 N.W. Murray Road. The free program offers activities that focus on issues surrounding health care, including wellness, financial planning and fitness.
“Communities always have had programs that focus on Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream,” said Debra Bronston, the 2014 chairwoman of the Dr. Martin Luther King Celebration Planning Committee. “We always talk about the dream, but we never talk about what happens when he (King) wakes up and what the dream looks like.”
Bronston said organizers of the Lee’s Summit event were inspired by the Poor People’s Campaign, an effort that King and other civil rights leaders launched in early 1968 to draw attention to the plight of the poor and the need for jobs, better housing and improved health care.
King was assassinated weeks before the campaign culminated in Washington, D.C. But King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, and other civil rights leaders continued their work, and the event was held on May 12, 1968.
The Lee’s Summit event will feature Kansas City Royals Hall of Famer Frank White and Mayor Randy Rhoads.
This is the first time such an event will be held in Lee’s Summit, and organizers hope it will continue after the holiday to promote healthy lifestyles year round.
“To us this is what the dream looks like when it comes to fruition,” Bronston said. “We have the opportunity to carry out the dream and not just talk about it.”
In Raytown, this is the 17th year of a citywide celebration aimed at promoting King’s vision of racial unity. The theme is “Unity with Love ... Pass it on!”
The program will be held at 3 p.m. next Sunday at Graceway, 5460 Blue Ridge Cutoff in Kansas City. Casey Carey from the National Center for Fathering and Jacqueline Wood, a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, will be the keynote speakers. Other presentations and performances also will be featured.
For the second year, area students will compete in an essay contest called “MLK Today.” Students are charged to write about the historical significance of the slain civil rights leader and how they can personally implement his vision, said the Rev. Ron Haley, an associate pastor and an event organizer.
“It makes the student think beyond themselves,” Haley said. “They begin to think like Martin, who was completely selfless, and they begin to see how they can do things and become involved in the dream in one way or the other.”
Last year, the winning essay focused on helping the elderly. Volunteers spent hours doing yard work and cleaning for elderly Raytown residents.
The contest is open to students from kindergarten to 12th grade. Students are divided into categories and are judged on the merit of their presentation, Haley said.
Promoting King’s message is the focus of the contest and the annual celebration, Haley said.
“It furthers the vision and helps everyone see how they can do Martin-like things in their lives and help people think about equality and dignity and to think beyond themselves,” he said.