LIBERTY — While the brief snowfall on Monday, Jan. 20 kept crowd size down, those who attended the 36th Annual Northland Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration at William Jewell College received a message of hope, perseverance and “freedom and justice for all.”

“In this day and age, judge yourself by what is right and wrong,” longtime mistress of ceremonies, Theresa Byrd said.

William Jewell College Senior Amaya Clark read a tribute poem to King and the concert choir sang a piece titled “Listen to the Lambs” by Nathaniel Dett, a black composer born 20 years after slavery ended.Annually, the celebration includes several presentations of service awards to local individuals or groups.

John Dillingham, an area businessman and philanthropist, received one of the 2020 Martin Luther King Jr. Service Awards. Cecelia Robinson, one of the planning committee members, praised Dillingham for his service as a second lieutenant in the United States Army and his time in Korea.

“John’s commitment to public service has been a lifelong endeavor,” Robinson said. “His volunteerism on more than 75 boards and numerous committee appointments and honors would fill many books. He has helped with several county initiatives as well as historic preservation.”

Antonio F. Holland received the second award for his service during the Vietnam War and then his education. Holland took part in the Boston March for jobs and housing led by King and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy. Holland taught at Lincoln University and completed his doctorate in history from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

“His efforts in preserving African American history, particularly in Missouri, have earned him several awards,” Robinson said. “I met him in 2008 when he came by Garrison School. He joined the Clay County African American Legacy board and continues to be valuable to us.”

Robinson also saluted her church deaconess Doris Taylor, who received the third 2020 service award. Taylor, raised in Excelsior Springs, graduated from Western Bible Seminary. In 1969, Taylor became the first African American woman in Excelsior Springs to become an Avon sales representative. She has been the CEO of her own business for 50 years. Taylor served as president of the women’s auxiliary of the Mt. Zion Baptist District Association of Missouri African American churches for 29 years and delivers baked goods from the First Baptist Church to community residents.

Clark received the student award for her work on campus as a member of the biology honor society, Cardinal Blazers and student Senate. She is also a member of the Jewell Cheer team, currently serving as cheer and dance captain. Academically, Clark has researched the effect of Alzheimer’s disease within neurons and has studied dementia. After graduation, Clark wants to be a scientist, delving into a better understanding of Alzheimer’s.

The Northland Justice Coalition also received a service award for the group’s efforts in promoting race relations and working on a ballot initiative to limit payday loan places in the city of Liberty.

The Invictus Award went to Ajamu Webster, the founding member and president of DuBois Consultants, a civil and structural engineering company. His outreach includes helping future engineers in the community. He is one of the founding members of the Kansas City Chapter of the Black United Front and was recognized as the 2018 Kansas City Thrive Award winner for his work in launching the WeDevelopment Credit with the mission to improve financial education in the inner city.

“I’m humbled to be among this group,” he said. “I challenge the young people in the room to work for justice. Even if your name is not called for an award, you have to work to bring about change and justice.”

The featured speaker, Tex Sample, is a Northlander. He is the pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church and a professor emeritus at Saint Paul School of Theology. He marched with King in Boston and on the last day from Selma to Montgomery.

“While I believe things have changed, in some ways, they have worsened,” Sample said. “Look at the percentage of society that can’t make a living. Economic equality goes hand in hand. Human rights are desperately important and there needs to be justice of the common good. It’s the needs, visions and interests of those at the grassroots level. These efforts will take this country back.”

Southeast Editor Kellie Houx can be reached at or 389-6630.