(Eric Crump/Democrat-News) [Order this photo]
Featured speaker Evelyn Elmore began and ended her presentation with songs praising Jesus. Between songs, her emphasis was following King's example by taking time to teach young people.
"(King) gave us hope, and he gave us a future," she said. "He took time out to teach and to preach to others. We got to take the time."
"If you've been helped, you've got to help someone else," she said.
She told several stories about how she helped her grandchildren learn new skills, like sewing and cooking, by cleverly appealing to them for aid. And while they thought they were helping grandma, grandma was helping them learn.
"Martin Luther King had a plan and he spoke life," she said. "He had a dream. He spoke it, and this is why we're here today. We need to tell our kids to have faith."
The Rev. Mary Williams, emcee for the event, praised Elmore for her faith and passion.
The event began with a video presentation featuring the words and music to "Lift Every Voice and Sing" accompanied by images of American black leaders and scenes from civil rights struggles.
Raymond Banks, president of Missouri Valley College Black Student Union, read an essay he wrote last year for Black History Month.
"We helped build America," he said. "This is our legacy. We celebrate Black History Month to remind us all of the greatness we possess.
"If we neglect to remember the pillars of black history, we forget who we are."
The Powerhouse Praise Dancers, directed by Ledawn Stephenson, performed before Elmore spoke.
Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, underscored Elmore's message about education, and he gave a nod to Banks.
"This young man here is an example of what can be," he said.
But he noted that black men are still disproportionally affected by crime and worried about the lives and talent that are being wasted. He said lack of hope is at the root of the problem.
"We have failed these young people," he said. "We've got to instill the value of education in our young folks. That's the key to the dream."
Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, also spoke and continued the theme of education. Pearce chairs the Missouri Senate Education Committee. He noted the difficulty of crafting education policy that serves everyone well.
"As elected officials, we need your prayers," he said. "We need your help and support."
Following remarks by the senators, Arron Haynes announced the NAACP voter registration drive, and Williams urged members of the audience to join the organization.
Following Williams' benediction, local Civil Air Patrol cadets retired the colors, concluding the event.