Communities across the Kansas City area will be commemorating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with varying themes that will blend the contemporary with traditional forms of expression.
The response to events in Ferguson, Mo., where a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed African-American teen, has provided a common thread for several events honoring the slain civil rights leader. Other efforts seek to promote racial unity and aid those in need.
Among the events:
▪ The Kansas City, Kan., celebration will begin with a motorcade to collect food for the needy. It will depart at 10 a.m. Monday from Mount Zion Baptist Church at Fifth Street and Richmond Avenue. The main celebration will follow, with music, speeches and dance performances starting at 11 a.m. at the Jack Reardon Civic Center at Fifth Street and Minnesota Avenue.
The theme this year is “Hands Up for Peace; Hands Up for Justice; Hands Up for God!”
“There has been much acrimony, conflict, turmoil and confusion, which has lead to a great deal of unrest throughout the country,” said LaVert Murray, general coordinator for the celebration. “We always plan our celebration wondering what Dr. King would say or do if he were here today.
“Regardless of what we are confronted with, we should have our hands up to God as true Christians like Dr. King would do. However, like Dr. King, we should not fear speaking out against those who would challenge our civil liberties, civil rights and bring about social injustices.”
▪ The Northland’s event begins at 8:30 a.m. Monday with a conversation about race relations in the community. That portion of the event will be in the assembly room inside the John Gano Memorial Chapel on the William Jewell College campus in Liberty.
“This is part of the response to what is going on across the country with all of the demonstrations related to Ferguson,” said Cecelia Robinson, program chairwoman. “We are finding that we need to have this discussion about our relationships and where we are going in this society.”
The dialogue will include residents along with representatives from local government, education, the clergy and others, Robinson said.
The annual King celebration will then move to the chapel’s auditorium, where the main program, with music and community service awards, will begin at 10:30 a.m. The Rev. Susan McCann, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Liberty, will give the keynote address.
▪ The Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy and Scholarship Award Committee and the Olathe branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will hold its annual banquet beginning at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Overland Park Marriott hotel, 10800 Metcalf Ave.
The celebration was launched 11 years ago to promote racial diversity, said Henry E. Lyons, president of the Olathe branch.
“It was sort of a thing that if Martin Luther King Jr. was celebrated in Johnson County, it was not a multiracial event,” Lyons said. “We wanted to show others that the struggle that King went through involved whites, Jews, Catholics and others. We wanted our program to reflect that diversity.”
This year’s Legacy Award recipient is Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn. Scholarships will be awarded to area students.
▪ Lee’s Summit chose “Unity in Our Community” as the theme for its citywide celebration. The program begins at 5 p.m. Jan. 19 and will be in the Pavilion at John Knox Village, 520 N.W. Murray Road.
A reception will precede the program, which will feature music and dance. KSHB news reporter Jenna Hanchard will speak.
“As time passes, the importance of significant historical events and contributions tends to wane in the consciousness of individuals,” said Lee’s Summit Mayor Randy Rhoads. “The annual King celebration is an attempt to allow people to recall the positive strides taken and reinforce the strides yet to be taken in the quest for equality in our society.”
▪ Raytown’s King celebration was Sunday at Graceway, 5460 Blue Ridge Cutoff. The Rev. John Wiley, pastor of the River Church, was to speak. Students competed in an essay contest.
The growth and popularity of the annual event is reflective of the community’s diversity, said the Rev. Pat Jackson, pastor of Blue Ridge Presbyterian Church.
“It is not that all long ago that … a person of color coming into Raytown would have been asked to move along,” Jackson said. “Attitudes have been changing, and the presence of this event in this community has become really important. It is the bringing together of not only people of different races but people across faith traditions and folks of no particular faith tradition.”