Kansas City Organizers Honor Legacy Of Martin Luther King Jr. With Activism

Jan 16, 2017

Across the city, people celebrated the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with parades, dancing, singing and community service. 

For Rev. Dr. Vernon Howard, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, the best way to honor that legacy is through activism.

This year, paired with a celebration of King's life, is the official launch of a campaign for a ten-year, one-eighth cent sales tax increase to benefit the city's East Side. 

On Monday, the SCLC-GKC sponsored a community forum to discuss the proposed tax increase. 

The issue was brought to the city through a citizen-led petition initiative, and will be on the ballot for the April 4 election. 

Howard says that date is significant.

"The Kansas City electorate gets an opportunity to take action in honor of Dr. King on the day that he was assassinated," Howard says. 

King was killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968. 

The proposed city-wide sales tax increase would go to support development in the area bounded by Ninth Street and Gregory Boulevard and by The Paseo and Indiana Avenue. 

"If the (city's) core is strong, then the wider city is strong as well," Howard says.

In addition to the community forum, the SCLC-GKC will also have a celebration of King's life Monday evening, featuring Congressman Elijah E. Cummings as keynote speaker. Cummings is the U.S. Representative for Maryland's 7th district. 

Howard says this year's celebration is particularly significant, considering the country's current political climate. 

"The most recent general election highlighted the fact that America is not as far as perhaps some of us thought she was, with respect to issues of racial justice, issues of women's rights, issues of racial discrimination, of economic fairness and for justice for all," Howard says. 

He says Donald Trump's rhetoric during the presidential campaign, as well his attacks on civil rights hero and U.S. Representative John Lewis over the weekend, are deeply troubling.  

But he also says that he's seeing an upheaval of opposition to such rhetoric – and a moment for people to take action against it. 

Lisa Rodriguez is the afternoon newscaster and a reporter for KCUR 89.3. Connect with her on Twitter @larodrig.