January 20, 2014

Day of service and praise marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day in KC area

Volunteers spent Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday performing a range of community service tasks across the Kansas City area. Elsewhere, the legacy of the slain civil rights leader was celebrated in sermon, poetry and song.

Cameron Young spent Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday moving heavy appliances and furniture and performing other tasks at a thrift store in Liberty.

There was no better way to celebrate the national holiday commemorating the civil rights leader’s birthday than by helping serve those in need, said the 24-year-old communications student at Metropolitan Community College-Maple Woods.

“On a normal day I would probably be just sitting around and watching television, not really doing much, which is how most people would use the day off,” said Young, who moved to Kansas City three years ago from Phoenix. “But I think it is important that we get out there and contribute, because Dr. King gave so much for us, so it is important that we give back, as well.”

Monday marked the nation’s 29th national observance of King’s birthday. King, who was assassinated nearly 46 years ago, would have turned 85 last Wednesday.

In 1994, Congress designated the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday as a national day of service.

Events in the Kansas City area started early Monday, as volunteers fanned throughout the city to participate in various community service activities. About 112 Maple Woods students performed community service at 12 locations in the Northland. It was the fifth year students from the area Metropolitan Community College campuses spent the King holiday performing community service.

“We just want to give back to the community,” said Rachel McMillan, 19, a Maple Woods journalism student from Kansas City. “You always want to better your community and help people in need.”

McMillan and Young were among 20 volunteers who spent the morning at the Hillcrest Hope Thrift Store. Workers sorted and reorganized clothes, moved furniture and helped prepare for the store’s reopening later this week. Hillcrest uses proceeds to help homeless families become self-reliant.

Elsewhere, King’s legacy was celebrated Monday in sermon, poetry and song. Events included a breakfast, an afternoon community forum, a program that focused on health and wellness and an evening scholarship banquet.

In the Northland, a large multiracial crowd gathered inside the John Gano Memorial Chapel for the 30th annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at William Jewell College in Liberty.

The event’s theme was “Fifty Years of Freedom, Equality, and Opportunity: The Civil Rights Legacy Lives On!” The program featured poetry, classical music and gospel-tinged renditions of some of King’s favorite civil rights songs.

King’s vision of equality and racial unity should not be relegated to a mere dream, said the keynote speaker, the Rev. Vernon P. Howard Jr. of Second Baptist Church in Kansas City.

“We have to chart a path where we might take up the baton and continue the unfinished work,” said Howard, a William Jewell alumnus. “There is too much pain and peril in this community to allow the fantasizing to continue with regards to the plight of God’s people in America. We still need to be inspired by action.”

To that end, Howard said, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City has relaunched the Poor People’s Campaign, an effort that King and other civil rights leaders started in early 1968 to draw attention to the plight of the poor and the need for jobs and better housing, among other concerns.

“It is indicative to the spirit of Dr. King but also the spirit of America, because this country has never been fully satisfied until all people are free and equal,” he said.

The events on Monday culminated with the mass celebration held at Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, 2310 E Linwood Blvd. Event organizers urged attendees to donate new toddler-size socks, underwear, hats and gloves for needy students who attend the Woodland Early Learning Community School.

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