Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances within corporate settings are uncommon in the Kansas City area, partly because many major employers give their employees the day off.
Often, that holiday comes with an exhortation to go out and volunteer, to do something good for the community or promote diversity in line with individual or corporate interests.
One of the few local firms to stage an in-house observance for workers this year set the event in advance of the holiday.
What started as an effort to encourage diversity among Burns & McDonnell’s employee owners has evolved into an annual assembly that focuses on diversity and civil rights education.
This year, the Kansas City-based engineering company offered employees and guests a noontime presentation — four days before the official holiday — featuring two civil rights leaders with historical insights.
One invited speaker was Mary Liuzzo Lillebo, the daughter of Viola Liuzzo, who was killed by the Ku Klux Klan while participating in the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights in Alabama.
Another speaker, Geneva Craig, participated in events with Martin Luther King Jr. and was part of the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
“We started the annual event to promote diversity within company employees,” said Burns & McDonnell spokeswoman Kristi Widmar, “but it includes promoting supplier diversity and community diversity.”
Because King day is a company holiday at Hallmark Cards corporate headquarters, employees have the day off but are encouraged to support relevant community events.
Hallmark spokesman Andy DiOrio said the company has an African-American leadership employee resource group and some of its members are active in events that occur during the week of King observances held by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City and Black Achievers’ Society.
At Sprint headquarters, the company is “recognizing the holiday with the MLK Week of Service,” said communications manager Lisa Belot. “Along with the Diamond Network, Sprint’s African-American-focused employee resource group, we are encouraging employees to follow Dr. King’s example and find a volunteer project or other meaningful way to give back to the community.”
Sprint observes the day as a company holiday but encourages its employees to “use it as a ‘day on’ rather than a ‘day off’ so that they can volunteer,” Belot said.
KCP&L encourages its employees to recognize a “Day of Service” by volunteering for Giving the Basics, an initiative to provide personal care products, according to the utility’s spokesman Jeffrey Beeson.
“KCP&L employees and their family members will be helping the organization sort items and package for delivery to area pantry locations,” Beeson said.
Other area companies have provided financial support for holiday-themed events held in the broader community.
On Tuesday, for example, several businesses are sponsoring a King-related event at MidAmerica Nazarene University, College Church of the Nazarene. Sponsors include Enterprise Holdings Foundation, Enterprise Rental; Enterprise Bank & Trust; Olathe Medical Center, Precision Printing and the Olathe Chamber of Commerce.