About 100 people gathered Sunday evening to celebrate the contributions of Martin Luther King Jr., and to discuss how the ideals he advocated for continue to be relevant in the Topeka community and beyond.
The annual Baptist Ministers Union service was held at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, 1100 S.E. Washington.
Pastor T.D. Hicks, who leads the church, said the service honors King’s legacy. The theme was “Pursuing the Dream in Challenging Times.”
Guest speaker Emanuel Cleaver III, pastor of St. James United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Mo., said progress has been made, but the struggle for freedom, justice and equality continue. Cleaver also said the national political climate is challenging.
Topeka mayor Michelle De La Isla called for community members to help each other.
“What we need to be doing in this community is to bring back a sense of caring for each other,” she said. “It is not OK for us to see our neighbor in distress and for us not to care. It is not OK for us to go ahead and know that a child is hungry and for us to not feed them … It is not OK to watch pain and just feel that it’s too hard for me to become involved and do something.”
De La Isla also alluded to recent violence in Topeka. In less than two weeks, the city has experienced three homicides.
“You know what makes superheroes?” she asked. “It’s love into action and when we love, we build up hope and when we have hope, we don’t have murders. When we have hope and we care about each other, we talk to the people that we need to create action. We don’t yell at each other, we talk to each other to move to solutions.”
Hicks noted there are social issues facing Topeka and said the community needs to come together, pursue King’s dream and heal.
Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay recounted first meeting Hicks. One day in court, Kagay’s objective was to get a young man who had committed several crimes sent to jail. Hicks also was in court to speak on the man’s behalf.
“On the surface, we showed up with different objectives that day,” Kagay told the audience. “But really we were both there with good intentions. We both wanted to help our community. We were coming at it from different angles. But we could see in each other, I think that day, our common purpose.”
The encounter was an example of building relationships, Kagay said.
“This community has an opportunity to grow closer together,” Kagay continued. “This community has an opportunity to get better than it is right now. We have a good community. We have people of good will, we have good leaders throughout this community, but it comes down to relationships.”
Shawnee County sheriff Herman Jones, Topeka police chief Bill Cochran, Unified School District 501 superintendent Tiffany Anderson and USD 437 superintendent Scott McWilliams also spoke.
Several religious leaders attended the event. Pastor Delmar White, of New Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, and Rev. Carl Frazier, of Southwest Baptist Church, also participated in the service and the community choir provided music.
Temple Beth Sholom Rabbi Debbie Stiel said the event was an important reminder to have courage to speak out on issues such as diversity and against hate.
Wayne Leak, who has been a member of the congregation for 24 years, said he looked out at those gathered and witnessed both diversity and unity.
“I think it’s beautiful,” Leak said.