Leaders honored at King Interfaith Service

The Rev. Vernon Percy Howard Jr. (left) and the Rev. Robert Lee Hill (right) were nearby as the Rev. Sam Mann received his award Sunday.
The Rev. Vernon Percy Howard Jr. (left) and the Rev. Robert Lee Hill (right) were nearby as the Rev. Sam Mann received his award Sunday. JTOYOSHIBA@KCSTAR.COM

One year after the death of Kansas City civil rights leader Nelson “Fuzzy” Thompson, a legacy award has been created to honor his memory.

The first one was presented Sunday to the Rev. Sam Mann, retired pastor of St. Mark Union Church and currently vice president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City.

The legacy award joins the annual Evelyn Wasserstrom Award. This is the 25th year that award has been presented jointly by the SCLC and the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee.

The Wasserstrom award was presented this year to two people: labor lawyer Taylor Fields and former Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders.

The awards were presented at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Interfaith Service, which was held this year at Rockhurst University. The guest speaker was the Rev. Gary Simpson, senior pastor of Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Mann was a close friend of Thompson, who was a United Methodist minister and for decades the president of the SCLC in Kansas City. Mann served as chairman of the group during that time. The two frequently traveled in support of civil and human rights causes.

Mann is also the former executive director of United Inner City Services.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City celebrates the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday with events running Jan. 8-18. On Sunday, an interfaith service was held at Rockhurst University. In addition to the presentation of

“A longtime activist in the struggle for civil rights, Rev. Mann continues to advocate for the dreams and goals of Dr. King,” said an announcement from the organizers. “It is most appropriate that Rev. Mann be the first recipient of the Legacy Award named for Rev. Thompson.”

The Wasserstrom Award is in memory of the director of the Kansas City branch of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. She died in 1984. The award recognizes commitment to the causes of freedom and justice for minorities and oppressed people in the Kansas City area.

Fields specializes in employment law and labor relations, working for years with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority and the Kansas City school district. Fields is chairman of the board of the Black Archives of Mid-America.

Fields was an advocate of last year’s effort to establish a $15 minimum wage in Kansas City.

Sanders recently stepped down as Jackson County executive and was previously the Jackson County prosecutor. A decade ago Sanders started the Silence is Killing Us campaign to encourage people to help law enforcement with information about crimes. It led to a surge in calls to the Tips Hotline.

Sanders also started a program in 2009 called Constructing Futures, which works with nonprofits and various community agencies to renovate derelict houses for once-homeless families.

Judy Hellman with the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee said the awards are recognition of deeds done.

“They are earned for the work these people have done in the field of civil rights and social justice,” Hellman said. “They’ve all worked hard. This kind of work does not get a lot of public recognition, but that is not why they do it.”

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