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Event in honor of Martin Luther King brings many faiths together

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Interfaith Service is set to take place Sunday, July 11. Shown at last years interfaith service, a joint event of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Jewish Community Relations Burea|American Jewish Committee, is the Rev. Robert Lee Hill of the Community Christian Church (from left), Leonard Pitts, the main speaker of the 2012 service, and Judy Hellman representing JCRB|AJC.

People of all faiths are invited to come together for a special service in support of civil rights and to further the work of an icon of the 20th century who strived to make all people equal. 

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Interfaith Service is a joint presentation of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau|American Jewish Committee (JCRB|AJC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The service kicks off a weeklong commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and legacy. The event includes a wide array of prayers, musical presentations and proclamations by various religious representatives from Kansas City’s dynamic interfaith community.

The service will begin at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 11, at the Community Christian Church.

Judy Hellman, representing the JCRB|AJC, and the Rev. Robert Lee Hill of the Community Christian Church are the co-chairs of the event. Hellman has been involved with this project for years, and it truly is a labor of love to her. 

“I have always cared very much about civil rights,” she said. “Ever since I saw the events first play out on television, I knew it was our obligation to do something. I owe Dr. King and all the people that went through that struggle. They were the ones who opened my eyes to the injustice and inspired me to join in the effort to bring about change.”

The interfaith service is designed to allow all beliefs — Jewish, Christian, Muslim and others — a chance to come together for this cause. 

“The more people can come together, the more they can see that they share the same values and ethics,” Hellman said. “That caring for each other is a vital part of human faith.”

Hellman believes in the importance of building understanding between peoples of different faith and was one of the founders of the interfaith women’s organization Strangers No More. This group is a joint program of the JCRB|AJC and the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, founded following the April 13 shootings at the Jewish Community Campus and Village Shalom by women who wanted to create a community where they are friends, rather than strangers. 

Hellman estimates around 300 to 400 people will attend the 2015 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Interfaith Service and corresponding ceremonies.

“I go to a lot of events, and I meet some of the most wonderful people,” Hellman said. “And there is always the best music there.”

There will be several special music presentations by Tim Whitmer, Millie Edwards, Ah’lee Robinson, the Kansas City Boys Choir, the Kansas City Girls Choir and Shir Balev.

Over the years Judy Hellman has been very active in the interfaith community and supporting civil rights. She is shown here with Congressman John Lewis at the 2013 JCRB|AJC Human Relations Dinner, where Lewis was the keynote speaker.

This year the keynote speaker will be the Rev. Charles Adams, pastor at the Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit, Mich., who has twice been named as one of the nation’s top 15 preachers by Ebony magazine.

“He always has a wonderful message, and he is a wonderful speaker,” Hellman said. “His method of preaching has earned him the title of ‘The Harvard Whopper. ’”

Receiving the 2015 Evelyn Wasserstrom Award will be John Sharp, activist and city councilman for Kansas City, Mo. Named in honor of the late Evelyn Wasserstrom, former director of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the award is given for commitment to causes of freedom and justice for minorities and other oppressed people in the metropolitan area. Sharp represents the 6th District of Kansas City and has been elected to the post four times. He is vice-president of the Multi-Racial Family Circle and a board member of the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education.

Hellman herself has received numerous honors for her civil rights work from different organizations, including the Harold Holiday Civil Rights Award from the Kansas City, Mo., chapter of the NAACP, the Legacy Award from the Olathe NAACP and the Evelyn Wasserstrom Award. 

Hellman said there are many goals for this week, and she personally always has the same goal. 

“In addition to trying to keep Dr. King’s dream alive, I want something larger to happen during this week that can lead to widespread peace everywhere, but I know that is goal is a long way away,” Hellman said. “So I hope that we inspire people to keep this movement going. I hope it brings people together… No one should stand alone for justice.”

The 2015 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Interfaith Service will be held at the Community Christian Church at 4801 Main Street, Kansas City, Mo. There is no charge to attend the service and all are welcome.