A Pulitzer Prize award-winning columnist, the pastor of an historic church in Harlem, and a Florida congressman are among speakers who will be featured during this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.
This year marks the 32nd national observance of the King federal holiday. Monday marks the 89th birthday of the slain civil rights leader.
The local festivities were scheduled to kick off Jan. 6 with an artist tribute featuring local gospel artist Isaac Cates & Ordained. The observances conclude Wednesday with the annual Black Achievers Reception and Awards Dinner that will be held at the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City has sponsored the majority of the Kansas City Martin Luther King Jr. Day programs. A plethora of other King-related events will be held in Kansas City, Kan., Overland Park, Independence, Raytown, Lee’s Summit and Liberty.
The various scheduled events range from a youth leadership workshop, scholarship dinners, volunteers efforts, a prayer breakfast, community forums, interfaith worship services and an assortment of other activities.
“His message is one of unity (beloved community) and the more communities that recognize the need to eliminate division the better our country will be for everyone,” said Arlana Coleman, who has helped plan the SCLC events for more than two decades.
Leonard Pitts, a nationally syndicated columnist for the Miami Herald, was scheduled to speak last Tuesday during the annual Rev. Dr. Nelson “Fuzzy” Thompson Community Luncheon that held at the Sheraton Crown Center at 23rd and McGee streets.
On Monday, the Rev. Calvin O. Butts, pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, is scheduled to give the keynote address during the Kansas City, Kan. King celebration. The program begins at 11 a.m. at the Jack Reardon Convention Center at Fifth Street and Minnesota Avenue.
The SCLC will hold its annual mass celebration at 6 p.m. at the Palestine Missionary Baptist Church, 3619 E. 35th St. in Kansas City. U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, who represents Broward and Palm Beach counties in Florida, will speak at the gathering.
During that event, the political group Freedom Inc. will receive the Rev. Dr. Nelson “Fuzzy” Thompson Leadership Award.
Local organizers noted that April 4 will mark the 50th anniversary of the day King was assassinated on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn.
They say that many of the hard-fought victories won by King and other civil rights leaders are now in peril.
Since being elected president, Donald Trump has worked to undo many of the legislative and civil rights achievements realized by President Barack Obama. Just recently, Trump’s attendance at the opening of a civil rights museum in Mississippi sparked protests and boycotts, local and national civil rights leaders noted.
In August, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People issued a first-ever travel advisory urging African-Americans to avoid traveling through Missouri. The nation’s oldest civil rights organization found that African-Americans are 75 percent more likely to be pulled over by law enforcement than whites in Missouri, and a new state law makes it harder to sue businesses for racial discrimination.
“The country is right now amid a defining moment, as the next few years will determine whether we continue steering off course or whether we strive to stay true to, as Dr. King said, ‘be true to what you said on paper,’ ” said the Rev. Vernon P. Howard Jr., president of the SCLC in Kansas City.
“Government, which is supposed to protect and secure rights, is now often an opponent of those rights, even sometimes a catalyst to take them away,” Howard said.
During the final year of his life, King and the SCLC initiated the “Poor People’s Campaign,” which sought to address poverty and economic inequity.
“Equal education remains only a dream, as in most cities equality of education is far from real,” he said. “Meanwhile income inequality worsens, primarily by race and geography, a reality not helped by the most recent tax proposal, which results in the poor losing out and the rich cashing in.”
The King holiday was established as a national holiday in 1983. The first national observance was held three years. In 1994, Congress designated the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday as a national day of service.
This year the local SCLC theme is “Celebrating Success: Advancing the Movement.” The first local King celebration was held 49 years ago and has grown each year.
Organizers proclaim each year that outside of King’s hometown of Atlanta, the Kansas City celebration is the largest in the nation.
“It is a tribute to our founders and elders upon whose shoulders we stand. It is a symbol that the work to handle the crisis we now face is ongoing, so there is hope,” Howard said. “It is a signal that America’s future is brighter than the harsh and barbaric realities we have seen re-emerge in the last few years.”