King's Legacy Celebrated In West Chester

Jan 15, 2018

With snow crunching underfoot, two snare drums kept the beat as people sang "We Shall Overcome" andĀ  marched nearly three-quarters of a mile to commemorate the birth of Martin Luther King, Junior. This was part of West Chester's 19th annual celebration of the slain civil rights leader.

Tanisha Agee-Bell drove from Mason for the event. "Dr. King started out about poverty, making sure that people who were poor weren't continually disenfranchised. We had a race issue in our country that underscored everything. Understanding that the race issue compounds the other issues that we have in our country is important."

Agee-Bell says she has seen a lot of hope in her city and in West Chester. "We want our community to represent Dr. King's dream."

Along the parade route, Kim ReberĀ of West Chester says she wants to do what needs to be done to support equality. "I think things like this bring a positive spin on things and promotes accepting people for what's inside versus judging people based on their color."

The march ended with a ceremony in Lakota West High School's auditorium. Reber says the school promotes diversity.

Census estimates from 2016 list West Chester as 78 percent white, and nine percent African American. Overall, Butler County is 86 percent white, and 8.5 percent African American.

At the indoor program, Regina McCall of Liberty Township says, given those statistics, the local celebration of civil rights "says to me that people are willing to listen and that people care. And that there are people in the community who are supporting people from all different backgrounds and not just (their own) self interests."

McCall says the King celebrations are more important than ever. "I think people have lost sight of what's important." She says people are considering issues of race from how they are affected personally. "I think we need to look at the global aspect and not just our personal issues."

Inside the Lakota West Auditorium, there was music, prayers, and speeches honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Credit Bill Rinehart / WVXU

Nick Hayes of Liberty Township brought his children so they could get a taste of the history of the civil rights movement. He says having a celebration of Dr. King's life in a majority white community shows progress for civil rights.

"Sometimes you feel like it's just a feel-good story for that day, just like when Christmas is coming up, everybody's happy and everybody's nice to each other. But as long as it hits home with one person, you're making a stride," he says.

Hayes says the current state of race relations is tough. "You see some improvements and then you see a couple of steps back sometimes." He says people are trying to come together even though there are different sides and different viewpoints.

Lakota's program featured a community choir, a selection of a King Speech from 1967, awards for a student essay contest, and an original song from three sixth graders.