A theme rolled through the Global and Multicultural Education Ninth Annual Peace Builder Awards Luncheon to honor the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
People hoping for civil rights, civility and the end to gun violence knew that in order for each to happen they had to step up and get involved. That was the message Saturday from every speaker at Saturday at Lidi’s Restaurant.
Alvin Sykes, of Kansas City, Kan., explained as the keynote speaker King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, whom he met and questioned years ago said world peace is possible “if you believe.” Sykes has used that advice to work tirelessly for others and in 2008 got Congress to pass the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, which has the FBI and the Justice Department working to resolve pre-1970 cases before witnesses and suspects die.
Till, 14, of Chicago who was black, was killed in Money, Miss., in August 1955 for whistling at a white woman. He was visiting relatives there. When his body was found and returned to Chicago, Till’s mother insisted on the casket being open so people could see the brutality black people faced in the South.
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His death occurred about a year after the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 decision in the Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education ruling ended legal segregation. Though a Tallahatchie County grand jury indicted Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam for the murder and kidnapping of Emmett Till. They were tried but acquitted. No conviction ever was won in Till’s death.
Till’s murder, however, helped spark the civil rights movement with King’s leadership. It also is frequently brought up in the current Black Lives Matter movement, which began after the Aug. 9, fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the police slayings of other unarmed black males nationwide.
King was assassinated April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn. The nation on Monday is celebrating a national holiday for in honor of his birthday. He would have been 87.
The Till bill passed with help from then-Sen. Tom Coburn, but it has a sunset of 2017. Sykes said he was returning to Washington, D.C., this week to press for the law to become permanent.
Sykes told the audience he learned he could be one of those persons who had to help others through peaceful means. On the Till bill it involved reaching across the political divide and working with Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican.
Peace Builder Award recipients were Rep. Emanuel Cleaver for his efforts to bring civility to Congress and get more lawmakers to reach across the aisle. The other recipient was Grandparents Against Gun Violence for its work locally to reduce gun violence.
“Pushing peace is, I think, the most important thing that we do,” said Paula Schaaf, GAME president.