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Martin Luther King Day, Jr. Celebrations Across the State Line

Martin Luther King, Jr. was honored this week with local and national celebrations. King was a pastor, activist, humanitarian and leader in the Civil Rights Movement. He is well known for his advocacy and practice of nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs.

He helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington where he delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. On October 14, 1964 he received the Nobel Peace Prize. He also spoke out on poverty and against the Vietnam War.

In 1968, King was planning a large rally in Washington, D.C. to be called the Poor People’s Campaign when he was assassinated on April 4 in Memphis, Tennessee.

Working to keep King’s dream alive, the NAACP of Olathe, Kansas held their 11th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy and Scholarship Awards Dinner at the Overland Park Marriott Hotel.

Peggy Dunn, Leawood, Kansas mayor, received the Legacy Award. Attorney John Kurtz was awarded the Diversity Advocate in Law Enforcement. Vivian Avery, Olathe Human Relations Commission chairman, was named Diversity Advocate in Community Involvement and Joe Arce, KC Hispanic News publisher was honored as Advocate in Media and Journalism. The Kansas City Royals were named Diversity Advocate in Sports.

“Those who tolerate injustice are as dangerous as those who commit it. That is a quote by Albert Einstein and it is also our philosophy, to not tolerate injustice. So when we were looking at individuals to honor, we followed that philosophy when we made our choices. We looked for people that speak out on injustice, take a stand against it, and quietly work within the community to make changes for the positive,” said Henry Lyons, Olathe NAACP president.

Each year middle school and high school students enter the essay contest. This year the committee read through 5,000 essays to pick three winners.

“When you read the students’ essays, you realize how aware they are that everyone should be treated equal in society. It is really uplifting that these students understand that you associate with one another; you respect each other’s customs, thoughts and ideas. I believe it will be a better place for our next generation,” said Lyons.

Sunday, another celebration took place at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Interfaith Event at the Community Christian Church where Kansas City, Missouri Councilman John Sharp received the 2015 Evelyn Wasserstrom Award on Sunday. The Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee and the Kansas City Southern Christian Leadership Conference sponsored the annual event.

Sharp spoke fondly of Wasserstrom, who he knew. “She was a strong and effective voice for fair housing and social justice and a crusader in our ongoing fight to end racism and prejudice in America.”

Sharp stated that while great progress has been made, the country has seen a backlash since President Barack Obama’s election.

“It has become abundantly clear that ending racism and prejudice will be a longer struggle than at least some of us had imagined, and it will require the continued efforts of all people of good will,” said Sharp.

On the Rockhurst University campus in Kansas City, Missouri the faculty and students honored King with a day devoted to service and a discussion on civility, diversity and accountability.

Their keynote speaker, Anita Maltbia, community leader and former executive director of the Green Impact Zone of Missouri, spoke at the Convocation Center about her own experience with the civil rights movement.

Students were involved in nine service projects last week. They painted the St. Francis Xavier Church food pantry, worked at Troostwood Community Garden and went to MegaWash Laundrymat where they offered random acts of kindness handing out hot chocolate to people along the Troost Avenue bus stops.

Students also baked cookies for City Union Mission and made fleece blankets and greeting cards for children.

In Kansas City, Kansas, King was remembered with a Mass celebration and motorcade/March for Hunger. Reverend Dr. Forrest Harris, president of the American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee, was the keynote speaker. His topic was “Hands Up for Peace, Hands Up for Justice, Hands Up for God.”

Kansas City lost a long time civil rights and civic leader this month. Reverend Nelson ‘Fuzzy’ Thompson passed away at the age of 70. More than 1,100 mourners filled St. James United Methodist Church to bid farewell to Thompson.

“It is no coincidence that we celebrate Reverend Thompson ‘s life during the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. They were both drum majors for justice,” said Reverend Emanuel Cleaver.

For decades, Thompson served as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City. He was the leading force behind the annual citywide celebration commemorating the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

As a youth, Thompson felt the sting of racism when he and his mother were not allowed service at the lunch counter of a downtown department store after watching the annual American Royal parade.

In a previous interview, he said, “It was a slight that stayed with me for the rest of my life. My mother said there was nothing she could do about it at the time but I would when I grew older.”

The movie, Selma, was released on January 9, to positive critical reviews. John Lewis, in an editorial for the Los Angeles Times stated, “This film is a spark that has ignited interest in an era we must not forget if we are to move forward as a nation. It is already serving as a bridge to a long overdue conversation on race, inequality and injustice in this country today.”

The film chronicles the tumultuous three-month period in 1965 when King led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights in Selma, Alabama.

Law enforcement officers used clubs and tear gas on March 7, 1965 known as ‘Bloody Sunday’ to rout marchers intent on walking 50 miles to Montgomery, the Alabama capital, to seek the rights for blacks to register to vote. The march was one of three that King led in that three-month period.

The events in Selma culminated in President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the significant victories for the civil rights movement.

Oprah Winfrey marched last week with fellow actors of Selma cast to Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, where civil rights protesters were beaten and tear gassed in 1965.