Work honors King and dream

Martin Luther King Jr. holiday celebrations often feature uplifting speeches, great gospel music and tributes to the civil rights leader.

But this weekend and Monday, some area youths also are honoring King’s memory with volunteering and public service.

“Part of Martin Luther King’s legacy was getting things done with a lot of people volunteering to serve together. Any great movement is moved forward by volunteers,” said Joshua Smith, a Youth Volunteer Corps team leader, who supervised a group Saturday at the Sanctuary of Hope, an interfaith nature retreat center in Kansas City, Kan.

About 20 young people, ages 11 to 18, were helping clean up the retreat center and the grounds around it. Pamela Ramirez, 15, of Olathe East High School, hoisted a hammer to help put up fencing that will keep deer out of one of the retreat’s terraced gardens.

She also plans to volunteer Monday and said she appreciates how the youth volunteer corps lives King’s vision, bringing diverse groups of kids together, in service to a good cause.

“They try to do their best, getting people with different backgrounds, Hispanic, black and white,” she said. “You get to be as one. His dream was we would be as one.”

Jeff Stock, a landscaper at the retreat, said many people may have the impression that youths are obsessed with video games and selfish pursuits, but he appreciates the youth volunteers.

“I get hope,” Stock said, “and inspiration.”

In another tribute Saturday, more than 200 people turned out for Johnson County’s 20th annual King Memorial Community Program, sponsored by the Johnson County King Committee and Johnson County NAACP.

The event at Blue Valley Northwest High School featured youth musicians, dancers and skits, plus a history lesson about African-American determination to find freedom in Kansas.

Keynote speaker Angela Bates told the story of Nicodemus, Kan., about 320 miles west of Kansas City.

Bates is a descendant of the settlers who fled Jim Crow laws in the South after the Civil War and established the town in 1877, seeking a place where they could be free and govern themselves successfully, without prejudice. She urged the audience to carry on today with that same grit, faith and vision.