In honor of this holiday the Mayor, City Council, City Leadership and the Human Rights Commission provided their reflections on the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Steven K. Gaer, Mayor:

I frequently reflect on Dr. King’s statement about wanting his children to live in a world that judges them, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. That is the type of City I want (and have tried to facilitate) West Des Moines to be-one that welcomes all regardless of what race or nationality a person is, a City that provides everyone with an equal opportunity to live a happy, productive and fulfilling life and a City that evaluates each person’s contribution based on the content of their character as evidenced by how they actually conduct themselves.

Renee HardmanAt-Large, Councilmember:

As I reflect upon the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I am proud of how far we have come, but am reminded each day that there is more work to be done. Dr. King had a passion for justice, fairness, and fought every day for the impact that poverty had on every aspect of one’s life just to mention a few.  He was aware that poverty was the foundation for what held people back due to lack of access to everything that enhances the quality of one’s life. Being elected as the first African American City Councilwoman in the history of West Des Moines, Dr. King would have been proud of this accomplishment, but more so – he would want me to “make my time matter.”  Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, means serving to ensure everyone has a voice, feels welcome, and that it is a place where all cannot just live, but thrive. Lets’ carry out his legacy by thinking beyond ourselves and fighting for the rights of everyone. Take a moment and walk one mile in the shoes of someone else and judge them not for what they look like, but for WHO they are and what they stand for. The world would be a better place as a result of it.         

Matt McKinney, At-Large, Councilmember: 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has many famous quotes and teachings, but one of many that have stood out to me over the years is: “the time is always right to do what is right.” This sentiment and truth is something that impacts my perspective and actions in both my personal and professional life.

Russ Trimble, Ward 3, City Councilmember:

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life has had an immeasurable impact on me and on the world, still today.  He taught us how to embrace others and accept people for who they are – just as they are. This is a philosophy that governs how I serve the City and how I address concerns that impact all  people from all walks of life. Personally, I instill this virtue upon my four children. I teach them every day to accept people for who they are and to have friendships with people of differing backgrounds, because this will only serve to enrich their lives. As a City Councilman for 10 years, I have most enjoyed my service with the Youth Justice Initiative and Human Services as it is about working with folks who need us the most, serving those that need a “Hand-up” not a Hand-out’. This is in fact,  the life that Dr. King wants us to live by- putting others needs before self.  I love his quote; “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is –What are you doing for others?”

 Greg Hudson, Ward 2, City Councilmember:

There's no doubt that Martin Luther King was one of the most important figures in American History. Since I'm a history teacher, I proudly teach about him every year. His devotion to justice, peace, love, non-violence, kind words, and liberty ultimately led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the most sweeping civil rights bill ever passed into law.

But I'd like to go a little farther in my exploration of Dr. King. This summer, I had a chance to visit his home in Atlanta. I visited his memorial as well. But whom I will remember most is Gwendolyn Middlebrooks, a woman who was the family babysitter of Martin and Coretta Scott King in 1960. When she became the King family sitter, MLK was already a prominent figure, and he hired Middlebrooks (a college student at Spelman) to babysit Martin III and Yolanda King (they would later have 2 more children).

While in a small classroom at Georgia State, I found myself marveling at story after story… incredibly personal stories that few have heard. I was struck by her description of his humility, his temperament, and his unending pursuit of the idea that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. It was a privilege to hear her words; they helped me understand Dr. King even more. She shared that he was a man of love. A man who stood up to hate, but refused to hate back. On this MLK Day, I wanted to share that I admire Dr. King for his work, and because he believed in the power of kindness, love, and non-violence, even in the face of terribly heinous prejudice.


Tom Hadden, City Manager: 

I remember as a kid growing up in the 60’s the tumultuous period of time the United States was experiencing. The Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, upheaval in our major cities, changing norms and mores, etc. were challenging the Country to take a hard look at ourselves. So through my journey of life I have often reflected and gained insight on how to be more inclusive, courageous, and forgiving through the writings and spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King. We can never stop learning and the courage and grace projected by Dr. King in a movement looking for human beings to be treated equitably was truly remarkable and his work still continues to this day.

Lonnette Dafney, Human Rights Commissioner:

I am of service to others has been the mantra of my life. It was instilled early in life that we are here on earth to share our time and talent with others. Dr. King sought equality and human rights for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged and all victims of injustice through peace. As an advocate of diversity, inclusion, and equality I appreciate the work of Dr. King as it set the blueprint for what I continue to seek as well. The work is not done and I will continue to advocate as Dr. King so eloquently stated “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” 

The Rev’d. Canon H. Milton Cole-Duvall, Human Rights Commissioner:

I had the life changing experience of being at the feet of The Rev’d. Dr. Martin Luther King as he stood at the feet of President Abraham Lincoln and delivered his riveting “I Have A Dream Speech” in 1963 as a part of The March on Washington. In 1965 I gathered with 100’s of others in Selma, Alabama to be led by the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Rev. King on the “March from Selma to Montgomery”, along with Congressman John Lewis and other brave Americans.

Dr. King was always resolute in non-violence and respecting the work, vitality, dignity and importance of every human being – values each of us are called to acknowledge, value and emulate and live into as we gather and work for a more perfect union. 

Mindy Begenat, Human Rights Commissioner:

A common misconception about the city of West Des Moines is that we lack diversity; in truth, it is the variety of cultures, experiences, and abilities that make our community such a wonderful place to live and work, however as a community we can do better to shine a light on that fact. Often times when people think about MLK Day they focus on a quote or a passionate speech, but Doctor King's legacy runs so much deeper than his words; his life's work was focused on addressing a culture of oppression and the systems that continued to allow that oppression to thrive. One of the most important focuses of the West Des Moines Human Rights Commission is to honor the work of activists like Doctor King through a continued focus on lifting up the diverse members of our community so their work can be recognized while continuing to address the culture and systems that make members of our community feel unseen, unheard and underrepresented.