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Gov. Laura Kelly calls for Kansans to unite behind King’s principles

Governor Laura Kelly speaks during “United We Stand,” an event honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., hosted by The Kansas African American History Museum, at Chapel Hill United Methodist Church, on Saturday evening. (Jan. 19, 2019)
Governor Laura Kelly speaks during “United We Stand,” an event honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., hosted by The Kansas African American History Museum, at Chapel Hill United Methodist Church, on Saturday evening. (Jan. 19, 2019) Correspondent

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s first week in office ended inside a church in east Wichita, where she called on Kansans to unite around shared values in honor of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“It’s time that we unite around the values we share,” Kelly told a crowd of about 100 gathered at Chapel Hill United Methodist Church to honor King’s life and legacy.

It was a busy first week for Kelly, who was sworn in Monday and was butting heads with Republicans and leaders of the state’s pension fund by Friday. But she “treasured every minute” of it, she said, especially her first official action.

“Last week was incredible,” she said.

She defended her first official act as governor, an executive order reinstating the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to work in the state that was eliminated by Gov. Sam Brownback in 2015, as a sign the state is moving in the right direction, a direction in keeping with King’s legacy.

“Discrimination of any kind has no place in Kansas. It will not be tolerated,” Kelly said.

“In order for us to succeed as a state, we must work together and put the needs of all families first. We must defend our most vulnerable and fight for those whose voices are often not heard,” she said.

Gov. Laura Kelly’s proposed budget would leave Kansas with $686 million in the bank next year, while expanding Medicaid, increasing school funding and hiring scores of workers to help fix the state’s troubled foster care system.

The event was organized by the Kansas African American History Museum and its theme was “United We Stand.” Attendees weathered slick roads and frigid temperatures to hear remarks from church leaders and state officials in honor of King’s legacy.

Kansas Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, credited King for leaving behind a world where she, a black woman, can be an elected representative of all people living in her district. Faust-Goudeau is the first elected African-American woman to serve in the Kansas Senate and introduced Kelly, praising her calls to reform public education, expand Medicaid and improve the Department for Children and Families.

King spent the better part of his adult life fighting for civil rights and equality for all — and against discrimination. Through his powerful speeches, civil disobedience and peaceful protests that were often met with violent opposition, King became the face of the 1960s civil rights movement.

He would have turned 90 years old on Tuesday. Many of the same issues plaguing King’s era remain at the forefront of our nation’s discourse: race, justice, poverty, war.

“There is work yet to be done for his dream to be fulfilled,” said Mark Gilkey, bishop at St. Mark Cathedral in Wichita who offered an opening prayer at the celebration.

In a country experiencing civil unrest reminiscent of the 1960s, Kelly said it’s important for Kansans to reflect on King’s message.

“It can seem as if the values that shaped our very foundation are being tested,” she said. “The ideals that bind us are being strained. But it’s at these very moments that Kansans always shine.”

Kelly said she was “thrilled” to see so many events underway across the state honoring King through community service, calling on her fellow elected officials to “live by the example that Kansans set every day.”

Kelly said she hopes the state can move forward together, regardless of political party, color or creed. She said that starts with honoring King’s legacy of “servant leadership.”

“There are lots of ways to serve,” Kelly said. “And it is important that each of us find a way to give back. We all can do a little more to make our communities a better place to live.

“And I look forward to working with you — and all Kansans — in the spirit of putting the collective good ahead of any individual ambition or agenda.”

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Chance Swaim won the Betty Gage Holland Award in 2018 for distinguished service to honor and protect the integrity of public dialogue on America’s college campuses. He has been a news reporter for The Wichita Eagle since 2018. You can contact him at 316-269-6752 and cswaim@wichitaeagle.com.

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