‘A lot of fighting to do’: Kansas City mayor speaks on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

·4 min read

In a speech on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas pointed to the racial inequities the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sought to overcome.

And he pointed to inequities that still exist in the Kansas City metro today.

In Kansas City, the life expectancy of Black citizens is 20 years less than some white citizens. In the United States, Black women are paid 75 cents to the dollar what white women are paid, Lucas said.

Lucas described disparities in criminal convictions, school discipline and high school graduation rates.

“Freedom means that we all live a life with the same rules, with the same chances, and the same forgiveness,” Lucas said at the 38th annual Northland Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at William Jewell College in Liberty.

Also at Monday’s event, awards were handed out in recognition of those doing the work King advocated for. It was one of several events in honor of King hosted around the metro.

King’s fight for dignity and equity had he been alive today wouldn’t have been singularly on Twitter, Lucas said. While many politicians across the county boast their love for King on social media, he added, many “didn’t seem to love entirely what he stood for.”

Lucas quoted King’s final speech before his murder, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”

“The world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land,” King said in 1968, the day before he was assassinated at the age of 39.

Lucas referenced a white mayor in Johnson County who referred to Kansas City’s inner city as a “war zone,” a statement that Lucas said went unchallenged by the other white mayors in the room.

For this reason, and so many others, Lucas said, the community can never stop fighting for change.

“And Lord knows we have a lot of fighting to do,” he added.

Gwendolyn Grant, President of Kansas City Urban League, accepted the Invictus Award at the 38th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration at the John Gano Memorial Chapel at William Jewell College, Monday, Jan 17 2022
Gwendolyn Grant, President of Kansas City Urban League, accepted the Invictus Award at the 38th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration at the John Gano Memorial Chapel at William Jewell College, Monday, Jan 17 2022

Gwen Grant, president of Urban League of Greater Kansas City, said Monday that if King was here today, she believes “he would be so disappointed in where we are.”

“The very freedoms that he fought and died for are at risk. Our voting rights are at risk. And we must stand up, we must show up, and we must fight for justice,” said Grant, who presented the Invictus Award for Social Justice at Monday’s virtual ceremony.

Lucas, in closing remarks, referenced the story of the good Samaritan, as King did in his final sermon.

He said the community must not ask what will happen to the individual who fights for change, for justice, for liberty. But rather what will happen to the community.

“It starts with me,” Lucas said. “It starts with us. It starts with you.”

Awards on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

The event on Monday also recognized members of the community and their efforts in the name of justice and the values King stood for.

Awards were given to the following individuals:

  • Erin Martin, a lead researcher and genealogist for the Liberty African American Legacy Memorial, who led the charge to compile a database of hundreds of names of the more than 750 African American men, women and children buried in mostly unmarked graves in Liberty.

  • Lucille Douglas, a Parkville community worker and Banneker School Restoration Project volunteer who purchased the historic Black school four decades ago in the hopes of preserving its history. The Banneker school, opened in 1885, was one of the first one-room schoolhouses west of the Mississippi built to educate African American children.

  • Dr. Andrea Dixon-Seahorn, the Chief Equity Officer for the Liberty Public School District, who advocates for equitable education across the state as a special consultant for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

  • William Jewell College students Marcus Jones and Tavarus Pennington.

Diane Allen, of Liberty, sang “Stand” at the 38th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration at the John Gano Memorial Chapel at William Jewell College, Monday, Jan 17 2022
Diane Allen, of Liberty, sang “Stand” at the 38th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration at the John Gano Memorial Chapel at William Jewell College, Monday, Jan 17 2022

Events around the KC metro

Celebrations and remembrances for Dr. King took place across the metro Monday, from churches to parks to schools.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly was scheduled to travel to Overland Park for the Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy and Scholarship Awards Dinner at 6 p.m. at the Overland Park Convention Center.

Also scheduled for Monday evening was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Mass Celebration and interfaith service at 6 p.m. In the morning, at the annual MLK Day breakfast hosted by the Beta Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated, conversations were had on health equity, economic development and education.

In Kansas City, Kansas, a celebration of Dr. King was hosted by the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and the city of Kansas City, Kansas.

Service projects took place across the metro as well, including a donation drive for local pantries and schools hosted by the Kansas City Zoo; mural painting at Garfield Elementary School and an annual MLK nature walk and Brush Creek cleanup, hosted by KC Parks and Recreation and Heartland Conversation.

There was also a guided meditation by the Midwest Alliance for Mindfulness with proceeds benefiting Uzazi Village, a local nonprofit that works to address health disparities, and a day of service at the Cleaver Family YMCA and Linwood Family YMCA.

The Star’s Kynala Phillips contributed.