The swiftest and most popular association with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s battle for civil right is “I Have a Dream” speech, and for good reason Cecilia Belser-Patton said, as he was one of God's “most gifted orators.”
But King was much more than that, she said, and oftentimes he's not given enough credit for his skills as a mobilizer, organizer and strategist, and his extensive philosophical education. She as much remembers the King who led marches and peaceful demonstrations and generally agitated the people's consciousness.
“With every move he made, he was playing chess,” said Belser-Patton, an organizer for Missouri Jobs With Justice and a noted activist in the Kansas City community who was the keynote speaker Monday for Independence's 32nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration at the Truman Memorial Building.
“He was considered an extremist at the time, and many of his fellow clergymen thought it was too soon, that they needed to wait,” she said. “There were a lot of Rosa Parks, a lot of Dr. Kings, that helped move this thing forward.
“We must have the courage to move as had the passion to move.”
Given her family's connections with King, Rosa Parks and other civil rights leaders and activities – Parks was a close friend to Belser-Patton's grandmother and was her Godmother – Belser-Patton said it was a tremendous honor to be asked to speak Monday.
She opened by recalling when she joined her mother's National Education Association-sponsored visit to South Africa after apartheid ended and hearing the story from elders about how husbands and wives greeted each other from a distance after a long absence. She encouraged all in attendance to greet each other – friends and strangers – in the same manner. This lasted about five minutes.
“There's never a time, when we actually allow ourselves to be vulnerable, that that doesn't happen,” she said of her speeches.
Referencing King's “Letter from a Birmingham jail” several times, Belser-Patton said she worries, like King did then, that people of today will need to repent for being too indifferent toward various examples of racial, social or economic injustice.
Regardless of political leaning she said, “We all know what is right. We must know that God will protect us through that.”
“My question for all of us is, 'What are we waiting for, to do what is right.”
Belser-Patton said she believes the blessed community King referenced in his famous 1963 speech “is at our fingertips; I believe it's just within our reach.”
“We are the ones we have been waiting for, to bring God's blessed community.”
Choirs from the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, St. Paul AME Church and Second Baptist Church all performed the keynote address. Nancy and Samuel Harris, who have been active in organizing the celebration from the beginning, were presented with the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award. Essay award winners based on theme “Hope draws us into the future; faith sustains us in the present” were Aleisha Washington of Bingham Middle School and Dericka Darr of Van Horn High School. Darr received the John Olivarez Scholarship for her winning essay.