"Unity in Diversity" was the theme for the 14th annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative service hosted by St. Mary's Hospital in Jefferson City.
"Diversity is a beautiful thing when it is celebrated rather than tolerated," said Carolyn Jackson, patient access services supervisor for St. Mary's and chairman of this year's event. "It is our duty to celebrate diversity through understanding, supporting and respecting everyone as they are."
Col. Sandra Karsten, superintendent of the Missouri Highway Patrol, was the keynote speaker. The first female officer to be promoted to the rank of lieutenant, captain, major, lieutenant colonel and colonel in the patrol's 84-year history, Karsten commands the entire organization, which employs almost 2,400 people, including 1,221 officers.
Karsten told the crowd gathered Monday that it was thanks to King's work that a path was made to allow a woman to head the Highway Patrol.
"Dr. King valued service and greatness," Karsten said. "He said everybody can be great because everybody can serve. He believed a person's worth was not measured by color, culture or class, but rather by their commitment to making life better for all."
Kartsen noted King's promotion of non-violence and how she and other members of the Highway Patrol had not seen that tactic used during protests in St. Louis over race relations.
"He had the ability to arouse creative tensions without it boiling over into violence," she said. "He once suggested that our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. As we reflect on our world today, those words are striking. The tension we see in our world takes time to build and time to dissipate. That tension has built due to our lack of communication.
"If we are to make a difference, to be united through diversity, we must move from being silent to engaging and communicating with others."
Karsten told the crowd to keep in mind, King said the reason people fear each other is that they don't know each other.
"We must not have members of society afraid of public servants," she said. "At the Highway Patrol, when we receive a call for assistance, we don't stop and ask how much money a person has or who they know before we respond. We just ask where and how we can assist."
Karsten said there is much law enforcement professionals could do to strengthen the relationships with those they serve.
"It is incumbent upon myself and other police leaders to communicate regularly with our communities and to bring out the best in our agencies," she said. "We need to unite our officers with our communities and ensure we reflect those we serve."
Karsten encouraged the crowd to endure struggles to make a significant impact on others, just as King did.
"I encourage you to fight cheerfully and peacefully for our country's rights and to do so as if it depends on you alone," she said.
"Everybody has a heart for unity," MLK Service Committee Member JoAnne Fulcher said. "I wish the world would come to recognize it and it will. We have to remember how Dr. King got his message across, through non-violence, and it won the day. He was brave and bold enough to show it could work. He chose the higher road, the more excellent way."