Suburban communities embrace and celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy

When a group of African-Americans organized the first Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in Clay County decades ago, finding a location to host the event was never an issue.

The festivities were either held at predominantly African-American St. Luke African Methodist Episcopal Church and the First Baptist Church, both located in Liberty.

But organizers sought to attract whites and other non African-Americans to the annual event to celebrate and reflect on King’s message of racial tolerance and equity.

“We wanted more people to become engaged and involved,” said Cecelia Robinson, a longtime program coordinator. “We went to the Catholic church and we had it there. But what happened was very few of their members would come.”

Organizers were not discouraged and continue to exam ways to boost attendance. That paid off in the 1990s when organizers forged a partnership with William Jewell College.

Now in its 34th year, the annual Liberty event draws hundreds and brings in nationally known speakers and performers. It is one of several King celebrations held in suburban municipalities across the Kansas City area.

“Maybe the residents then didn’t see their…

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