“Our generation has become silent,” said James Bridger Middle School student Claire Moddrell in an essay she read to the hundreds in attendance at the 2014 Independence Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. “We need to be the change...and stand up.”
Independence’s annual celebration of King was held at the Truman Memorial Building on Monday and featured a diverse program of choir performances, students reading their own civil rights essays and a finale of everybody holding hands while singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”
“His Legacy Through Our Eyes” was this year’s theme, and the ‘our’ appeared to be directed toward today’s youth on how they can continue King’s legacy of promoting equality and brotherhood among people of all varieties.
“The civil rights movement was done by young people,” said keynote speaker Anita L. Russell, President of the Kansas City, Missouri Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “The youth and college students of King’s day were inspired by his work.”
The event was kicked off by three Santa Fe Elementary students singing the national anthem, followed by Shirley Murdock of the Independence Ministerial Alliance reciting a prayer that asked to keep King’s dream alive.
While Independence Mayor Don Reimal issued the city’s proclamation that honored “the most significant modern historical figure,” he himself received an honor immediately afterwards: The Human Relations Commission Award.
Reimal earned the honor “because he is an outstanding individual that exemplified community service and crossed the line of differences to foster understanding and respect for many people,” said Human Relations Commission Chairwoman Lupe Moe.
“It was very surprising,” said Reimal about being this year’s recipient. “More people deserved it as well.” He also credited his city council on how they “worked hard” and “accomplished a lot” during his eight years as mayor.
Later on, keynote speaker Russell began her speech by citing local and Midwestern connections to the civil rights movement. She referred to President Harry S. Truman as being the first President to publicly address the NAACP by signing Executive Order 9981 that desegregated all of the armed forces, plus the first sit-in protest occurred in nearby Wichita, Kan., in 1958.
“King caused people to come together in order to make a difference,” Russell said. “He also left instructions on how to make the world a better place.”
However, Russell expressed there is still much more work in all aspects of today’s society that needs to be done in order for the country, let alone world, to continue King’s vision of equality and justice. She brought up King’s desire for economic fairness.
“Fast food workers are not just college students anymore,” she said. “They are adults with families. The minimum wage is not a living wage.” She also noted that the average American’s earning rose just 19 percent over the past few years while the elite class has risen nearly 65 percent. “There has been a long-term decline of income.”
She also cited that racism is unfortunately still a major problem in the country, particularly Missouri where there were more than a hundred reported hate crimes and 67 of those were in Jackson City this past year. “We need to continually say no to hate.”
Russell concluded by saying you don’t need a degree or high position to serve your community, but rather you “only need a heart filled of grace and a soul generated by love.”
At the end of the event, Aleasha Harris of Independence lit a candle of peace and everyone stood up and held each other’s hand.