Four Kenton County cities - Erlanger, Elsmere, Independence, and Covington - came together for a joint celebration of the life and message of Martin Luther King Jr.
The rare collaboration - believed to be the first ever - featured a multi-dimensional event on the national holiday itself, Jan. 20.
"The focus is on 'empathetic listening.' That's the theme of the celebration," Erlanger Mayor Jessica Fette says. "It's important that we make sure that everybody who lives here feels welcome."
The program included: Remarks by Mayor Fette, Elsmere Mayor Marty Lenhof, Independence Mayor Chris Reinersman, and Covington Mayor Joe Meyer; a video featuring interviews with a diverse group of Northern Kentuckians talking about their lives and hopes for the future; keynote remarks by longtime state Sen. Gerald Neal of Louisville, who has been a strong voice for senior citizens, youth, minorities and the disadvantaged; a panel discussion on empathic listening with a focus on what that means on a regional level; and music by the First Baptist Church of Elsmere Male Chorus.
The mayors - who represent four of the five most populous cities in Kenton County - have recently begun engaging in conversations to share ideas about municipal issues.
"Given the great diversity of this country, there are real lessons to be learned by Dr. King's life and his experiences,” Meyer says.
Independence Mayor Chris Reinersman said his city was honored to participate.
"I often say that with a name like 'Independence' we really do understand and appreciate 'where our independence comes from,' " he says. "Dr. King's contributions to the cause of freedom are among the greatest in our history.”
Fette says the joint event would serve as a model for further collaboration in a region that often feels fragmented.
"This is what we should be doing as a region," Fette says. "Anytime we can join together to do something, we will have a bigger impact."
She said that recognizing a common sense of purpose and identity was critical given the diversity of Northern Kentucky.
"I'm told that there are 26 different languages spoken by students in the Erlanger-Elsmere school system. I'm sure there are even more in Covington," she said. "Our community is diverse whether we understand that or not."