Great deeds won Kansas City Councilman John Sharp public recognition Sunday for his work to fight prejudice and bigotry. He saw a greater power.
“What really matters is what everyday people do every day to speak up and not be silent when they hear racist and prejudiced comments,” Sharp said in receiving the Evelyn Wasserstrom Award. “Small acts when repeated by millions of people can transform the world.”
The award was created by the Kansas City Southern Christian Leadership Conference chapter to recognize commitment to the causes of freedom and justice for minorities and oppressed people. Sharp was honored at the Martin Luther King Jr. Interfaith Service held at the Community Christian Church in Kansas City.
It was an emotional event following the death Sunday morning of the Rev. Nelson “Fuzzy” Thompson, who had established the interfaith service.
The memory of Thompson’s life added fire to a stirring performance of “Stand by Me” that was dedicated to him and performed by Millie Edwards, Ah’Lee Robinson and the Kansas City Boys Choir and Kansas City Girls Choir.
Thompson’s life and work were praised throughout the afternoon. The Rev. Robert Lee Hill, who co-chaired the event, remembered Thompson’s humor with a bit of his own, remarking on how Thompson played basketball and “his attempt to play basketball in his later years.”
Sharp’s own efforts were recounted by presenters of the award.
Among them, he countered a rally in Kansas City held by a violent white supremacist group by promoting a counter rally at the Liberty Memorial, and he helped block a Ku Klux Klan group’s effort to start a cable television show.
Sharp, who represents Kansas City’s 6th District, noted that his son came from Dallas for the presentation and reflected on his birth 28 years ago.
“I never dreamed that as a nation we’d still be dealing with the same issues of racism and prejudice we faced then, now more than a generation later. I thought before now, integration and education would have nearly wiped these things from the American landscape,” Sharp said.
Instead, he said, there has been an increase in actions by white-supremacist and anti-government groups following President Barack Obama’s election. He cited a radical front against “sensible immigration reform” and police brutality that sometimes has had deadly consequences for young African-American men.
“It has become abundantly clear that ending racism and prejudice will be a longer struggle than at least some of us imagined,” Sharp said, “and will require the continued efforts of all people of good will.”
Sharp’s award was the 25th time the honor has been given, though five other times the award was shared by two recipients.
The event’s keynote speaker struck a note for interfaith understanding and the value of diverse ideas and beliefs.
“Do not learn from just one source of truth,” said the Rev. Charles G. Adams, pastor of the Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit who is referred to as the Harvard Whooper for his ties to the university and his impassioned style of speaking.
Adams urged his audience to embrace the “wonderful variety of amazing differences” in the world. He said there is “something wonderful in all religions.”
“You don’t have to agree to have love,” Adams said.