Suburban events honoring King are flourishing

In Lee’s Summit, the life of Martin Luther King Jr. will be celebrated through music and dance.

Meanwhile, organizers for the annual King Holiday program in Liberty will honor those who have made a difference in their community.

Residents in Olathe will reflect on the spirit of the slain civil rights leader through a variety of artistic expressions.

And in Kansas City, Kan., hundreds will gather at the Reardon Civic Center for the annual mass celebration to commemorate King’s legacy.

Although the events sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City are considered the area’s biggest King celebration, many other communities, groups and organizations also will recognize King’s life and message.

Most suburban celebrations began as small gatherings that generated only a handful of participants. The events have flourished and now draw a more diverse crowd.


This will be the 28th year Liberty has held a celebration honoring King.

The program begins at 10 a.m. Monday in the John Gano Memorial Chapel on the campus of William Jewell College in Liberty.

Patricia Okonta, Liberty High School graduate and Yale University student, will be the featured speaker. Okonta was the first African-American student body president at Liberty High School and is studying political science and global affairs with an emphasis in international security.

The William Jewell Concert Choir will perform, and several campus and community leaders will be honored with the Martin Luther King Jr. community service award.

Among them, the Rev. Robert L. Hill, senior pastor for the Community Christian Church, will be presented with the Invictus Award, which recognizes the legacy of Nelson Mandela. A free reception will be held following the program in the White Atrium of the Yates-Gill College Union.

Lee’s Summit

The King celebration in Lee’s Summit, now in its 15th year, takes place at 5:30 p.m. next Monday in the Pavilion at John Knox Village, 520 N.W. Murray Road.

This year’s theme, “Stone of Hope,” was chosen to recognize the opening of the King monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The event includes cultural exhibits from area students and residents. The Lee’s Summit West High School drum line will perform.

Other performances include the Heritage Dance Ministry, El Grupo Atotonilco, Nartan Academy of Dance and the Pleasant Lea Middle School Black and Gold choir.

The Rev. Armour D. Stephenson III, the pastor of City of Truth Church, will be the keynote speaker. Stephenson is a 2002 graduate of Lee’s Summit High School.


In recent years, organizers of the King celebration in Olathe have expanded their program to include more activities that involve youths.

This year, the city’s human relations commission has partnered with the school district and MidAmerica Nazarene University to sponsor the Celebrate Diversity 2012 contest for middle and high school students.

The theme, “Martin Luther King Legacy: The Courage to Believe,” will offer cash prizes to the best entries in essay, visual arts and multimedia categories.

Victor Glover, human relations manager for Olathe, said the goal of the annual contest is to increase awareness, foster understanding and celebrate the city’s diversity.

“It is this understanding of each other’s differences and living in harmony that give me hope that one day race will not be an issue in our society,” Glover said in a statement.

Organizers partnered with the school district, which made the essay contest part of its curriculum. Students are allowed to use a variety of ways to express their thoughts on King’s message of racial equality.

“We went from under 100 entries to a few hundred entries, and last year we had 2,781 students enter the contest,” he said.

The entries were submitted in November and went through several stages of judging in December and January.

The entries will be on display from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the MLK Community open house Thursday at the Olathe City Hall, 100 E. Santa Fe St. Final judging will take place at 5:30 that evening.

Kansas City, Kan.

The King celebration in Kansas City, Kan., is expected to attract more than 5,000 people to the Reardon Civic Center.

The event will be next Monday. It will begin with the annual “Motorcade for Hunger,” which departs at 10 a.m. from the Mount Zion Baptist Church at Fifth Street and Richmond Avenue.

The motorcade seeks to draw attention to the needs of the poor, which was one of the initiatives that King promoted, said organizer LaVert Murray.

The motorcade will pick up marchers along the route, Murray said.

It will arrive at the Reardon Civic Center, Fifth Street and Minnesota Avenue, at 11 a.m., where the mass celebration takes place.

This year’s theme is “Moving Forward With The Dream.”

More than $30,000 in scholarships will be awarded to graduating high school seniors, and the King Mass Choir will perform.

The Rev. Major L. Jemison, senior pastor of the St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, will be the keynote speaker.

Other events to honor King will take place throughout the Kansas City area.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Missouri state celebration will take place on Saturday at the St. James United Methodist Church, 55th Street and Wayne Avenue. It is the 10th year the local celebration has taken place.

This year’s theme is “Out of the Mountain of Despair, A Stone of Hope.” Mayor Sly James is the scheduled keynote speaker.

The Johnson County Martin Luther King Jr. Committee and the Johnson County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will host its joint King celebration at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Blue Valley Northwest High School, 13260 Switzer Road in Overland Park.

The event is in its 20th year. The theme this year is “Dream in today’s racial climate.” Yvette Morton, president of the Johnson County MLK committee, said the theme seeks to explore how far racial tolerance and acceptance has progressed over the years.

Angela Bates, president of Nicodemus Historical Society, will be the keynote speaker. Bates is a descendant of the settlers who founded the historic African-American community following the Civil War in 1877.

The program is free and open to the public.