Kansas City Councilman John Sharp, a longtime community leader, is the recipient of the 2015 Evelyn Wasserstrom Award.
The award was to be presented Sunday during an interfaith service that is part of the Kansas City area’s observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City sponsored the program.
Sharp was recognized for his years of public service on the City Council and the Hickman Mills school board and as a member of the Missouri General Assembly.
“John has dedicated his life to service for others and stood up for important issues that improve the quality of life for all,” said Judy Hellman, event co-chairwoman. “He is committed to justice, not only for his constituents, but for everyone.”
Sharp has served on the board of the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education, as well as many organizations committed to work on behalf of African-Americans and other minorities, Hellman said.
“He understands that education is important to prevent injustice,” she said.
The Wasserstrom Award, named for a founder of the annual interfaith service, recognizes work on behalf of minorities and oppressed people.
Sharp said he was very gratified to receive the award.
“I don’t think I could get an award that would mean more to me,” he said. “I knew Ms. Wasserstrom. She was a great lady and a great force for social justice. I’m just extremely pleased and humbled that they would select me for this.”
Sharp said that among other efforts, he is proud of the role that he and the City Council played in the city’s peaceful response to a National Socialist Movement rally that was held in Kansas City in November 2013.
“This is a group that specializes in theatrical and provocative performances, and they were successful in some other cities in provoking violence, and that didn’t happen here,” Sharp said. “We had a counter rally that drowned out their message of hate and showed this community rejects hate and rejects their message.”
But Sharp also noted that much work remains to be done on civil rights issues. He said there are two key priorities the country must confront.
“I think the two challenges that this country has to deal with is to assure that people of color, particularly African-American males, are treated fairly by our law enforcement professionals. Some of the incidents that have occurred are just not excusable,” Sharp said.
The other issue, he said, is comprehensive immigration reform, with a path toward citizenship.
“We can’t continue to split up families,” Sharp said. “We can’t continue to force people to live in the shadows where they are afraid to report crimes to law enforcement. We have to let them participate in our society.”
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