With the annual celebration of the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. a little more than a week away, special events marking the occasion will begin this weekend in Topeka.
The annual “Unity in the Community” musical, which kicks off nine days of activities honoring King, will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1701 S.W. Collins.
Special guests will include Ballet Folklorico de Topeka, Sweet Sounds, the Rev. Shawn O’Trimble, Andrea “A’Jay” Scipio and gospel rapper Ronald Haggerty Jr.
Beginning Monday, events will take place in Topeka each day until Jan. 15, the national holiday when King’s birthday is observed.
John Nave, a member of Living the Dream Inc., a Topeka-based organization that coordinates King-related events, said the Unity in the Community program brings together people from across the community.
“That’s what Dr. King wanted,” Nave said. “He wanted to bring people together, have dialogue and fellowship and get a better understanding of each other.”
That spirit will continue through the various activities and programs that follow in the coming week, Nave said.
Among highlights in the nine days of events will be the annual Living the Dream Banquet on Jan. 13 at the Ramada Hotel and Convention Center in downtown Topeka.
The featured speaker will be Bernard Lafayette Jr., an ordained minister, author and civil rights activist who was a leader of the 1960 Nashville lunch counter sit-ins. Lafayette serves as chairman of the board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which King founded.
Lafayette is a professor at Emory University in Atlanta and is a former Freedom Rider and director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island
Also at the banquet, high school senior scholarship and community awards recipients will be recognized; musical selections will be provided by the Lex Norwood Group; and Jim Korinke and Walter Coppage, professional actors from Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Mo., will present a historical theatrical performance titled “King and Cronkite: A Live Multimedia Performance.”
Each year, Nave said, the banquet features prominent speakers who played a role in the civil rights movement, including many who were on the front lines with King.
Activities will conclude this year on Jan. 15, which not only is the date of the national holiday honoring King but this year marks his actual date of birth in 1929. King died on April 4, 1968.
Here is a look at other activities in Topeka commemorating King’s birthday.
Monday, Jan. 8, to Friday, Jan. 12: Respect for Elders and Pre-Schoolers Week
— Members of Living the Dream Inc. will tell area preschoolers about King and deliver personal care items and books to senior centers.
Tuesday, Jan. 9: Educational Outreach Day
— The 12th annual poetry competition for students in fifth through 12th grades will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Antioch Family Life Center, 1921 S.E. Indiana Ave. A reception will follow the program.
Wednesday, Jan. 10: Stop the Violence Day
— Dale “Mad Dog” Messmer, owner of Straight Talk Outreach Program, will speak to Topeka-area middle- and high-school students about making right choices, peer pressure, nonviolence, social media and bullying at 9:30 a.m. at White Concert Hall, near S.W. 17th and Jewell on the Washburn University campus.
Thursday, Jan. 11: “Drumming for the Drum Major”
— The Governor’s Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. March and Celebration program will start at 11 a.m. at the south steps of the Statehouse, 300 S.W. 10th Ave. The program will be held in the first-floor rotunda. Reginald Robinson, interim vice chancellor of public affairs at the University of Kansas, will be the guest speaker.
— Area high-school drum lines will showcase performances at 7 p.m. at the Highland Park High School gymnasium, 2424 S.E. California Ave. Doors open at 6 p.m. Admission is $2 or two canned or nonperishable food items.
Friday, Jan. 12: Community Leadership Day
— A Community Leadership and Recognition Luncheon will be held at 11:30 a.m. in the Jefferson Room of the Ramada Hotel and Convention Center, 420 S.E. 6th Ave. Brett Ballard, men’s basketball head coach at Washburn University, will be the guest speaker. Corporate leaders will be recognized for their sponsorship. The luncheon is by invitation only.
— Jared Thompson, a news reporter with KSNT, will speak at 1 p.m. to Capitol City School students.
— Bernard Lafayette Jr. will speak to residents of the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex.
Saturday, Jan. 13: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship and Awards Banquet
— The Scholarship and Awards Banquet will be held at 6 p.m. in the Regency Ballroom of the Ramada Hotel and Convention Center, 420 S.E. 6th Ave.
Sunday, Jan. 14: Fellowship Day
— The Topeka Baptist Ministers’ Union, in partnership with Living the Dream Inc., will have a worship service at 6 p.m. at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, 1100 S.E. Washington Street. The Rev. Emmanuel Cleaver III, pastor of St. James United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Mo., will be the guest speaker. A community choir will sing, and the Eisenhower Middle School Step Team will perform.
Monday, Jan. 15: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday and Day of Community Service
— The Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, 1515 S.E. Monroe, in partnership with Living the Dream Inc., will have an anniversary program at 10 a.m. commemorating the 50th anniversary of King’s death. First-, second- and third-place winners of the MLK Art, Essay and Poetry Competition will be recognized. Educational activities, games, and arts and crafts will be available. Winning art pieces from the 2018 MLK Art Competition will be displayed through Jan. 31.
— “Whose Dream Is It?” and the Topeka Center for Peace and Justice, in partnership with Living the Dream Inc., will have a free community soup dinner at 6:30 p.m., followed by a program at 7:30 p.m. featuring Rabbi Moti Rieber, executive director of Kansas Interfaith Action, at First Christian Church-Disciples of Christ, 1800 S.W. Gage. Musical selections will be provided by the Topeka Community Mass Choir.
— In partnership with Harvesters Community Food Network’s “Dreams CAN Make a Difference: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service,” community volunteers will pack boxes of items for Topeka-area residents in need of food assistance. Three different two-hour shifts will be available, led by the Harvesters Community Engagement Team. For information, call (785) 861-7750 or email FightHunger@harvesters.org. Volunteers are encouraged to bring food donations to the event or donate online at www.DreamsCan.harvestersvfd.org.
For more information, visit www.ltdtopeka.com.