King’s message of community still resounds today

Organizers of the area’s annual celebration of the life of Martin Luther King Jr., say that the slain civil rights leader’s message of social, racial and economic equity remains relevant today.

Issues such as unemployment, urban violence, racial inequality, homelessness and limited access to affordable health care continue to shackle minority communities in Kansas City and nationwide as they did decades ago, leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City say.

The theme of this year’s nine-day SCLC celebration, “Creating A Beloved Community,” represents a continuation of the civil rights agenda that seeks to bridge the economic, political and social divide.

The logo for this year’s celebration features a portrait of King that is surrounded by these words: employed, inspired, faithful, healthy, enriched, achieving, educated, informed, together and fellowship.

The Rev. Nelson “Fuzzy” Thompson, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, said those words are elements of creating the world King spoke of in his book “Toward the Beloved Community.”

The events of each day of the celebration are tied to a word connected to the theme, Thompson said.

“No one group or one person can solve these problems but if we work together, we can solve them,” he said. “We are tying this to the King legacy and trying to look at a practical philosophy to solve the challenges we face.”

For example, the community luncheon scheduled for Tuesday focuses on creating healthy communities. Joycelyn Elders, a former U.S. surgeon general, is the featured speaker.

Other events will include prize-winning journalist Leonard Pitts Jr., singer Oleta Adams, a citywide youth parade, a community forum and a Methodist ministers’ fellowship service.

The observance began Friday with a reception for Isaac Farris Jr., the national SCLC president and King’s nephew. It will conclude Jan. 16 with a community forum and annual mass celebration at Friendship Baptist Church, 3530 Chelsea Drive.

This year marks the local SCLC’s 43rd celebration commemorating the life and civil rights legacy of King.

Many other groups and municipalities also will sponsor activities and community service events to honor King. However the SCLC celebration, with most events running Tuesday through the Jan. 16 holiday, remains the biggest.

Organizers say their annual celebration is one of the biggest outside of Atlanta, King’s hometown.

“The Beloved Community,” was a term King used as early as 1956 and he carried the message that human decency would not allow poverty, hunger and homelessness to exist, Thompson said.

Inclusiveness would replace racism, discrimination, bigotry and prejudice. Conflicts would be resolved peacefully, he said.