It has been more than three decades since Ruby Stevens, who founded Junction City’s Martin Luther King Day Celebration, decided it was high time her community had an event honoring the legacy of legendary Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.
She was persistent and Monday, the 35th iteration of the community’s celebration of Martin Luther King Day took place, featuring inspirational speakers and song.
Educators took center stage at the C.L. Hoover Opera House Monday at the community’s annual celebration.
Superintendent of Unified School District 475 Reginald Eggleston, Kansas State University Assistant Dean of Diversity, Recruitment and Retention Kimathi Choma, and President of Cloud County Community College Adrian Douglas all spoke during the event.
Douglas spoke of how she came to be president of CCCC and about the purpose of education. She quoted King, saying “the function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically intelligence plus character that is the goal of to education.”
Part of her goal as an educator is to help students ready themselves to enter the real world after college.
“When we are addressing these young people, we’re helping them — and helping to prepare them for the future, helping to prepare them to go out into this global society, this very diverse world that they need to be prepared to live in,” Douglas said.
She came to Kansas in the hope of influencing others’ educations in a positive way.
“I wanted to be in a place that I could be impactful … I believe that education transforms lives,” she said.
Choma told those gathered at the celebration of how King had spoken at K-State 52 years prior, three months before his assassination, on the subject of the future of integration.
“In that speech, he was not too optimistic,” Choma said. “He was not too pessimistic, but he was realistic when he said, we have made significant strides in the slow (fight) for racial justice. But we have a long, long way to go before the problem is solved. I believe that’s still true today.”
Administrators at K-State received hate mail and threats concerning the speech.
“I believe the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was a prophet,” Choma said. “An American prophet of justice and love … He believed in education, as we all do here in this room. He believed that young people had the power to change America. And I believe the same thing.”
Eggleston was the celebration’s keynote speaker. He talked about listening to King’s speeches on the radio on Sundays with his family and what he learned growing up in the Civil Rights Era.
Eggleston spoke of the ease of sending a child to school versus educating them.
“That’s very difficult for us — to take time out of our busy schedules in order to sit down and share (with) and nurture a young person,” he said. “Our young people need to hear your voice. You may not be teaching them algebra or social studies or English, but you can get them to learn common sense. You can get them to understand that there are consequences that follow their decisions.”
According to Eggleston, the downfall of many talented individuals has been caused by a lack of character. He called on the community to embrace younger generations, in spite of whatever differences they may see versus their own generations. Eggleston encouraged people to educate their own children to the best of their ability and to teach them civic lessons such as how to behave responsibly.
During the event, the members of the MLK Celebration Committee also recognized the 2020 winner of the Coretta Scott King Courage Award. The award goes yearly to a standout African American woman in the community.
Ruby Robinson was acknowledged as the 2020 winner.
A retired Army First Sergeant who served for 25 years, she was the first African American woman to attend jump school and serve as a drill sergeant and as a member of special forces. Robinson was honored for the ways in which she broke down both racial and gender barriers during her time in the military and for educating others on issues of diversity.
“I’m humbly proud,” Robinson said, after being presented with her award.
She those who helped her along her way and encouraged others to continue working toward civil rights and community improvement.
“We have a long way to go and the things we need to do (are) not finished yet,” Robinson said. “The mission is not impossible.”
Local government officials attended the event, including Mayor Jeff Underhill and Geary County Commissioner Brad Scholz. Also in attendance was Kansas Rep. Lonnie Clark (R-Junction City), who read off Gov. Laura Kelly’s proclamation recognizing Martin Luther King Day. County Clerk Rebecca Nordyke spoke to the group briefly about voting rights. The crowd also learned more about the 2020 census from partnership specialist David Driscoll of the Kansas 2020 Census Team.
The group would later march around the block singing protest songs from the Civil Rights Era, linked arm in arm as activists did when they marched with King.
Daphne Maxwell, who is a member of the committee dedicated to putting the event on each year, spoke of how the yearly event brought community members together.
“We’re all connected in here in here in one way or another because of community,” she said. “And so just know that may all come from different walks (of life) and different cultures and lifestyles and all of that. But today we are one — united — for one cause and knowing that we cannot make it on our own.”