A Kansas City appeals court judge urged an audience Saturday to learn from the examples of Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela as the crusade for racial justice continues.
“That challenge remains with us today,” said Missouri Court of Appeals Judge Lisa White Hardwick. “Our task is to remain vigilant.”
Hardwick was the keynote speaker at the 22nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. holiday community memorial program, presented by the Johnson County King Committee Inc. and the Johnson County NAACP. More than 100 people turned out for the program, which featured rousing songs and praise dance by members of the Second Missionary Baptist Church of Grandview and dance and musical presentations by young people.
The annual program’s mission is to keep King’s vision of racial and economic justice alive, said Michael Shook, a member of the Johnson County King Committee.
“It’s for us not to lose hope, to pass that down to our children,” Shook said. “It’s living the dream, keeping the dream going.”
Janice Lambert, another committee member, said the annual event is not just about celebrating King’s accomplishments, but also noting how far the country has come toward racial reconciliation “and how far we need to go.”
Hardwick told the crowd that she was first galvanized to become a civil rights attorney by King’s assassination. And she said she joined other students at the University of Missouri in Columbia in opposing the apartheid in South Africa that led to Mandela’s imprisonment.
She said both were “seismic leaders” who had a fierce determination and were the right men at the right time. They refused to accept the status quo and fought for change in their communities. She said the public craves that type of moral authority to inspire action. In addition, Hardwick said, their passion won out over practicality, and threats of jail or death did not diminish their commitment.
The final key lesson from both men, she said, is that they didn’t sink to the level of their detractors and never tried to exact revenge or retribution.
“We must forgive the past in order to embrace the future,” Hardwick said.
While the U.S. has made tremendous progress, as witnessed by the election of President Barack Obama, Hardwick said much more work remains, especially in the fight for “economic empowerment.”