Civil Rights Leader Honored at Community Celebration

By Carol Best
Jan. 22, 2014
MLK 2014-Statue icon

Students, faculty, staff, honored guests and community members gathered at College Church of the Nazarene for the 8th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration Jan. 21. Sponsored by community partners, the event featured remarks from city leaders, music by Vance Ashworth, student involvement and the featured speaker, civil rights leader and pastor Dr. Charles Johnson.

Johnson is also the recipient of the 2014 Martin Luther King Jr. Living Legacy Award. Johnson’s 52-year career as a minister and community leader in Meridian, Miss., put him in the path of the famous “Mississippi Burning” trial. As a key African American witness in the case, Johnson played an important role for the Federal Justice Department, offering clarity to the event that lead to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The founder of the Meridian Action Committee, the Opportunities Industrialization Center and pastor of Fitkin’s Memorial Church of the Nazarene in Meridian, Johnson shared a platform with Dr. King, traveled with Dr. King and lead a march through Meridian following King’s assassination in 1968. Johnson later received a presidential appointment to the National Manpower Board by President Jimmy Carter and served on Mississippi Governor Cliff Finch’s Colonel Staff.

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MLK 2014 Chet and Johnsons"Called to the Fire" author Chet Bush with Dr. and Mrs. Charles Johnson

Johnson’s civil rights experience is the subject of a new book by Chet Bush, Called to The Fire. Bush’s account of Johnson’s life is a story of love, conviction, adversity and redemption in the pursuit of God’s call and the fight for justice and equality. Bush and Johnson appeared that evening at an author's lecture and book signing at MNU's Mabee Library. The two also spoke in an undergraduate class and were guests at a special reception.

Johnson's remarks at the celebration were well received by an audience of over 1,000. Giving three main points he said dreams should be God-inspired, dreams can put one in danger (but being in God's will is the safest place), and that dreams don't make you popular but if you fulfill the dream God plans for you, you have found success.

"God is calling us to stand up for what is right and not what is popular," he remarked.

Sponsors of the event included:

  • The Sprint Foundation: Unity Commitment, Title Sponsor
  • City of Olathe: Faith Commitment
  • Enterprise Bank and Trust: Faith Commitment
  • Multicultural Ministries, Church of the Nazarene: Faith Commitment
  • Olathe Chamber of Commerce: Faith Commitment
  • Olathe Medical Center: Faith Commitment
  • Olathe Walmart Supercenter: Faith Commitment
  • Precision Printing: Faith Commitment
  • Dr. David & Donna Spittal: Hope Commitment
  • Enterprise Leasing Co.: Hope Commitment
  • Johnson County NAACP: Hope Commitment
  • Kansas City District Church of the Nazarene: Hope Commitment
  • Simmons First Bank: Hope Commitment
  • Nazarene Publishing House: Freedom Commitment
  • Schurle Signs, Inc.: Freedom Commitment

MNU's Leader Scholars we also honored at the event. These promising students of diverse ethnicities are chosen based on criteria that espouse the life principles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The scholarship recipients perform extracurricular activities and service projects mean to promote diversity and justice at MNU and in the surrounding community. The 2014 Leader Scholars are (left to right):

Micah McEwan, senior youth and family ministry major, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Cynthia Parra-Navarro, sophomore elementary education major, Monett, Mo.

Shelton McCullough, senior accounting major, Olathe, Kan.

Karla Davis, senior corporate communications major, Olathe, Kan.

Estela Gingerich, junior marketing major, Kirksville, Mo.

Not Pictured: Lantino Luna, senior nursing major, Surprise, Ariz.

MLK 2014 Leader Scholars