An intimate gathering of 16 people celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Saturday evening. The night included fellowship, prayer and singing, including King’s favorite song, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”
Mildred Edwards, executive director of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission, spoke of Ubuntu, an African philosophy that preaches togetherness among people.
“(King) believed whole heartedly in the concept of ubuntu,” she said. Edwards said the principles of King’s leadership, love, courage and selflessness, are things that every leader should maintain.
Edwards said her mom was pregnant with her at the time of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington. Her family gathered in her grandmother’s Washington, D.C., home to watch the speech on television and listen to it on the radio like millions of others around the country.
“When that soaring, powerful preacher’s voice began those rhythmic cadences, people became still and silent,” she said. Edwards said his speech captured the people because he “articulated their very lives.”
The group read a call-and-response version of the speech, led by Rev. Larry Fry.
In addition to the celebration of King’s work, Edwards also spoke about the work that remains for the African American community.
“I believe if Dr. King were here, he’d commend us on our ability to sit here as brothers and sisters,” she said. “I also believe we’d be admonished for our inability to have succeeded in creating a fair and just society.”
Edwards emphasized the troubling statistics in Kansas by repeatedly using the statement, “on our watch.”
Some of these issues affect the youngest generation with only 81 African Americans out of 30,870 children receiving early childhood education during the 2011-12 school year. Other statistics mentioned poverty (the number of African Americans living in poverty status over the past 12 months is 2.4 times greater than white residents), health (life expectancy at birth for African Americans is 6 years less than white males and 4 years less than white females) and employment (6.2 percent of state population yet 4.4 percent of employed population).
Edwards said issues such as these are being addressed by the commission through a strategic task force, which in time would develop plans. She said Kansas has a long history in civil rights including abolitionists and the ending of segregation in schools.
“Yet we still have miles to go to create a fair and equitable Kansas,” Edwards said.
Rev. Jim Spencer headed the celebration, which is now in its 29th year. He delivered a poem entitled: “What Would Martin Do?”
“There are some that are not here because they don’t realize that silence is betrayal,” he said. “In this day and age, I know for a fact that we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.”
The service ended with a candlelight walk to First Lutheran Church while singing the song, “We Shall Overcome.”
The group sang in unison, “We shall overcome. The Lord will see us through. We’re on to victory. We’ll walk hand in hand. We are not afraid. The truth shall set us free. We shall live in peace.”