It comes as the mayor prepares to launch a new anti-poverty initiative in the weeks ahead.
Lightfoot spent time during the holiday serving and packing food with young people at the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
One of the largest events hosted on MLK Day in Chicago is the Rainbow PUSH Coalition's 30th Annual Scholarship Breakfast. At the event, Lightfoot spoke to a host of dignitaries and community leaders about her poverty concerns.
"There are many young people who are never going to see the inside of a room like this. They are not positioned yet to take advantage of opportunities that might be there and that is because of the grip of inter generational poverty," Lightfoot said.
Keynote speaker, Rabbi Samuel Gordon, said if King were alive to see Chicago now he would not have been able to imagine how much it has prospered. He added that he thought King would easily recognize those areas on the West and South sides where he did his greatest work.
"That Chicago has not been transformed. If anything it is worse today than it was 55 years ago," Gordon said.
The mayor plans to launch a Poverty Summit next month, where she envisions a collaborative effort with the business and philanthropic communities.
"We believe that it's important for us to take on this challenge of poverty. We're not going to solve it in a day, we're not going to solve it in a year; but we've got to start laying the foundation of breaking that grip," Lightfoot said.
As an election year approaches, Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke of another urgent need.
"How should we spend this day for Dr. King," He asked. "One massive voter registration. The crown jewel of his struggle was the right to vote."
The event not only celebrated Dr. King but also raises money for scholarships. It brought together leaders from across the city and state.
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Reverend Jackson also noted that while Chicago and this country have made progress in the 50 years since Dr. King's death, there are still problems with racism and injustice.
"Education cannot end with what we know, it must also include knowing who we are," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. "As Dr. King said, intelligence alone is not sufficient. It must include character."
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Awards were given for service and mentoring and funds were raised to continue the tradition of providing scholarships for students who need it most.
The keynote speaker for the event was Rabbi Samuel N. Gordon, who heads the progressive Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Willmette.