Throughout the Kansas City area Monday, people lifted the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. through speech, song and service.
Observances honoring the slain civil rights leader began early in the day and stretched well into the late evening.
King’s dream of equality and justice remains as prevalent today as it did decades ago, said the Rev. Emanuel Cleaver III, the keynote speaker for a morning event inside the John Gano Memorial Chapel at William Jewell College in Liberty.
“People thought that his dream of racial equality, his dream of harmony would surely not come to pass,” Cleaver said, explaining that King’s opponents believed the dream would die if they got rid of the dreamer. But they didn’t realize that the dream did not originate with King.
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“The dream came from God,” Cleaver said.
Killing him did not stop momentum for the dream.
Days following King’s assassination, President Lyndon Johnson signed civil rights legislation. Decades later, voters elected Barack Obama as the nation’s first African-American president.
“The same things that Dr. King was dealing with (then) we are still wrestling with today,” Cleaver said. “We’ve come a long way and the dream has made some progress, but there is still a long way to go with the dream, and change is needed.”
Earlier in the program, the William Jewell concert choir performed songs in tribute to King and Sam Houston, Liberty’s first African-American elected to public office, who recently died.
Also, the Rev. Tex Sample received the annual Invictus Award for Social Justice.
Sample recalled meeting and marching with King at the march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
“He (King) believed that ultimately justice will be done by the reign of God,” Sample said. “But right now we have got a lot to do.”
Sara Stuart was expecting maybe 10 volunteers on Monday to help clean and repair apartments at the Hillcrest Hope transitional housing building in Avondale, a small Northland community. Instead, she got 17 members of the Metropolitan Community College Maple Woods baseball team.
“It’s been great having these baseball boys,” said Stuart, a case manager at the charitable program for homeless families.
Clinton Squires and Matthew Mefford were among workers painting two apartments while others hung shelves, organized the utility room and did other chores.
“We were told we would have to do a community service project sometime during the year,” Mefford said. “It’s something required by our athletic director. A lot of us enjoy doing it.”
Baseball coach Justin Munson said athletic teams from Maple Woods volunteer at various locations every Martin Luther King Jr. Day and again in the fall.
“We did another Hillcrest operation last year over in the Liberty area,” Munson said. “We planted trees outside the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum two years ago.”
Stuart said there are always things to attend to when a family moves out to get an apartment ready for the next one.
“Getting to painting is pretty low on my list of things to do,” she said. “So it’s a huge blessing to have these guys here today.”
Friends Emma Unoski and Kate Bergamini are both senior nursing majors at Rockhurst University who have done volunteer work on Martin Luther King Jr. Day since they were freshmen. But this was their first year working together.
They and a few underclassmen spent the afternoon baking cookies for guests at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge in Kansas City.
“They are here for chemo radiation,” said Unoski. “We came to be with them and to talk to them and give them something fun and warm to eat on this kind of cold day. We thought it would be a good place to spend our day.”
Bergamini works on the oncology floor of a hospital back home in St. Louis. She has volunteered at Hope Lodge before, making meals. She also has spent time making cards for hospitalized children.
“I know how much they enjoy getting cards from people,” she said.
Unoski said community service is not a requirement at Rockhurst. She chooses to do it.
“I love volunteering and servicing,” she said, “so every year I decided it’s a trend I’d like to keep going. I love giving back to the community and doing things for others, so this is one of the ways I get to do that.”
A sense of uneasiness blanketed the community room inside the Linwood YMCA.
It was done on purpose.
A group of students from area high schools and Rockhurst University watched a video that highlighted the series of events in 1963 that included the bombing of Birmingham, Ala., church that killed four girls in their Sunday school classes and the historic march on Washington, D.C.
“As young people they were sprayed with fire hoses and were bit by dogs,” said Tariah Harris, a 15-year-old Paseo Academy student. “But they stood up for their rights.”
Participants also discussed parallels between the early civil rights struggle during King’s era to the current Black Lives Matter movement.
“Students were trying to process this hatred and how King got around that and how they can get around some of the barriers today,” said Stephenie Smith, executive director of the Linwood YMCA.
“Just as King did in realizing his dream, we want students to be able to go through and understand what is their dream and what can they do to make a difference,” Smith said.
Later during the discussion, participants were instructed to trace their hand on a sheet of construction paper and write down their dream for equality.
“I have dream that people of the world will eliminate their ignorance and bias and evil thoughts towards someone’s race,” said Luke Stoecklin, a junior who is studying economics and English. “A lot of issues of race stem from ignorance and bias towards someone else. But at the end of the day, we are all people and everyone should just love each other and we are one human family and not just different races.”
Rockhurst student Aleeyah Thompson said she was pleased that her classmates spent a part of their King holiday engaging and interacting with high school students.
“I really hoped we inspired the kids that were here today and I hope they took something from it,” said Thompson, a junior majoring in psychology and pre-occupational therapy. “I think it is important to empower the youth.”