In recent years, the city of Independence’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration included one keynote speaker.
But this year – the 50th anniversary of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on Aug. 28, 1963 – the event featured local residents reading King’s most famous texts in their entirety. The 31st annual celebration “The Struggle Continues...” took place Monday night at the Truman Memorial Building.
“All Dr. King wanted was equality, justice, freedom and peace for all races and creeds,” the evening’s program stated. “Shamefully, in 2013, Dr. King’s dream has not been accomplished. Hatred and discrimination still exist – the struggle continues.”
The city of Independence, Community of Concerned Citizens, Local Investment Commission, the Independence School District, the Independence Ministerial Alliance and The Examiner sponsored the event, which ended with a candle lighting and group participation in singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” Mayor Don Reimal called Monday “a historic day,” not only with the annual celebration but also with the inauguration of President Barack Obama’s second to his term in office.
The celebration in honor of the 84th anniversary of King’s birth also included several awards, including the winners of the middle school essay (Kyharra N. Williams from Bridger Middle School) and the John Olivarez Scholarship essay (Zachary Wenig from Truman High School) contests reading their work aloud.
Longtime Independence resident Dr. Roy Schaefer posthumously received the 2013 Human Relations Commission Award. Schaefer, who died in March 2011 at age 78, served on many community and social-justice organizations, including the city’s Human Relations Commission, and traveled with Dr. Don Potts throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s to Haiti to provide medical care to citizens in need.
“(Schaefer) had a deep compassion for those who society too often overlooks or simply ignores,” said John Mayfield, former chairman of the Human Relations Commission and a newly elected state representative in the Missouri House. “He was my friend and a mentor. He pushed us to help make Independence a better and a more caring place.”
Between the readings of King’s speeches, the Kansas City-based Heritage Dance Ministry performed for its first time at the city of Independence’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. The all-female group formed in 2006, and with women of all ages and denominations, the Ministry performs in black history programs across the area.
As Kyharra N. Williams read her essay aloud, she detailed her own experience on the theme of “the struggle continues.” In the fourth grade, Kyharra wrote, her best friend told her that her mother wouldn’t allow her to invite Kyharra to her slumber party because of her skin color.
“Being so young, I couldn’t understand why the color of my skin made any difference in our friendship. I was absolutely crushed inside. Never had I looked at the people of the world as black or white,” Kyharra said. “...I still thank God for what Dr. King did and sacrificed. I know that without his work, it would be much worse for African Americans, and I would not have the opportunities that I do today.
Page 2 of 2 - “I can only hope that his amazing acts will inspire others, just as they have inspired me, to finally create a world without racial conflict. That’s my dream.”