King’s influence remains strong in Wichita

Chance Swaim

Almost 48 years after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the Baptist minister and civil rights activist’s influence and message endures in Wichita.

Hundreds of people gathered Monday at the Hughes Metropolitan Complex at Wichita State to celebrate King’s life and legacy for the Greater Wichita Ministerial League’s (GWML) annual worship celebration sponsored by Spirit AeroSystems. 

The theme of the celebration was “Beyond Tolerance.” 

“Have you ever felt like somebody was just tolerating you?” Cynthia Wolford asked. “They didn’t engage you, they didn’t try to get to know you. They just tolerated you.” 

Wolford said the day’s mission was to move beyond tolerance and toward acceptance.

“You can probably sense and feel we have turned this Metroplex into a church today,” said Bishop Wade Moore Jr., president of GWML. 

Behind him on-stage stood a full church choir. 

The celebration included singing, reading of scripture, prayer, the national anthem, an awards ceremony and audience donations. 

The crescendo of the celebration was a 45-minute sermon about a passage from the Old Testament by guest speaker Lance D. Watson, senior pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia.

Watson’s voice fired up the audience two hours into the ceremony, and several people rose from their seats and cheered throughout his speech.  

“God wants to do something in Wichita,” Watson said. “He wants it to be an example for the rest of the nation.”

Wichita State Student Body President Joseph Shepard attended the celebration of King’s life. 

Shepard said he believes the only way we can be united is if everyone owns an equal opportunity, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or religion—one of the main focuses of his presidency and work with the Office of Diversity and inclusion. 

“I’m really happy to be here today and continue to live out the vision and dream that Dr. King set out for us,” he said. 

Wichita State President John Bardo attended with his wife and accepted a community service award from the ministerial league on behalf of the university and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. 

“My formative years were during the Civil Rights movement,” Bardo said. 

Bardo said he remembers the Little Rock Central High School desegregation situation as an 8 year old and has vivid memories of the marches on Washington and Selma, the freedom riders, the long, hot summer of 1967 and King’s assassination.  

“I entered graduate school with the purpose of studying what was then termed ‘race relations,’” Bardo said. 

He said he later found himself gravitating toward finding broader solutions to the same problems King and others were trying to solve. He learned from King and others—who at the time were labeled “radicals,” —including Frantz Fanon and Lee Rainwater. 

“[King’s] work and his recognition allow us to focus on key issues that we need to address as a university,” Bardo said.  “We have to be about creating ladders to the future. That, to me, is the key legacy of Dr. King.”