After serving 36 years as the general coordinator of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in Kansas City, Kan., LaVert A. Murray has stepped down.
The annual event held at the Jack Reardon Civic Center routinely draws hundreds to the festivities, which include singing, dancing and an array of speeches and sermons. Scholarships are awarded to local students.
“LaVert has played a tremendous role in raising the profile of our annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration,” said Mark Holland, mayor/CEO of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan. “Over the years, he has coordinated with the faith community, our schools and businesses and the broader community to celebrate the values represented by Dr. King. Not only that, he has used the event as a vehicle to illustrate the value of education by leading efforts to enhance the event’s scholarship program.
“With LaVert’s leadership, our MLK celebration has offered our community the opportunity to reflect on how we are all connected, and that if change is going to occur, we have to work together in collaboration, mutual respect and love for one another,” Holland said.
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Murray said he is stepping down to devote more time to his business, Murray & Associates, an economic development and government services agency. The company is managing several projects in California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico in addition to land holdings in Kansas City, he said.
“When I took on my role it was supposed to be for a short time, and now, some 36 years later I need to step back and reflect,” Murray said. “I continue to have passion and interest in the MLK celebration and movement. The founding fathers of the celebration established objectives for our program and community that have certainly been exceeded.”
Clarence Small is the new program coordinator for the annual King celebration.
The Kansas City, Kan., King celebration was launched after efforts in Congress and the U.S. Senate failed to pass federal legislation to make the birthday of the slain civil rights leader a national holiday.
In response, the Rev. C. E. Taylor rallied Baptist ministers in Kansas City, Kan., to create an annual local program designed to preserve King’s legacy. The group selected Murray to coordinate the celebration.
“Many of our MLK celebrations have been very enlightening and instructive as it relates to Dr. King’s philosophy on nonviolence and civil disobedience designed to bring about social justice and human rights,” Murray said.
Murray said that over the years, the Kansas City, Kan., event has had a number of memorable moments. They included keynote address by the Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles, who was on the balcony with King when he was assassinated.
Kyles provided details of how King prepared to deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. Kyles also discussed the April 1968 night before King was assassinated.
“It kept the audience, young and old, in an attentive daze,” Murray said. “Those young people in attendance who were not even born when Dr. King was assassinated finally understood how difficult it was for Dr. King to create a movement that literally changed the world, and then give his life so that all men would be equal.”
The Rev. Epthalia (Lou) Banks, president of the Baptist Ministers Union, praised Murray for his years of community service organizing the annual celebration and overseeing its scholarship fund.
“The founding fathers of the KCK celebration had great vision in appointing LaVert to the roles he mastered in the 36 years he served,” Banks said. “His leadership and management style and his even-handed nature sets the bar high for those following him.”