The annual breakfast held in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. is doubling in size this year.

CANTON  The annual breakfast held in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. is expected to double in size this year.

Next week's 27th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Mayors' Breakfast will be at the Canton Memorial Civic Center, which can seat 900 people. And for the first time, mayors from communities besides Canton will participate, with the goal of promoting unity in Stark County. The theme of the morning is "Building Bridges for a Bold Dream."

The changes were inspired by the ongoing Strengthening Stark effort, which is supposed to help make Stark County more economically competitive. Data shows the county's population is shrinking, aging and becoming less wealthy, and one of the recommendations to reverse the trend is for local leaders to work together to make things better, instead of focusing on just their own communities.

State Rep. Thomas West, who is a member of the Greater Canton Martin Luther King Jr. Commission that puts on the breakfast, said the goal is to connect cities, eliminate misconceptions and make sure King has a presence throughout Stark County.

"How can we build bridges to unify not only our Canton community, but let's start building bridges to western Stark County and eastern Stark County," he said.

Traditionally, the breakfast has been a Canton-centric event. This year, seven mayors are coming:

• From Alliance - Alan Andreani

• From Canal Fulton - Joe Schultz

• From Canton - Thomas Bernabei

• From East Canton - Kathleen Almasy

• From Louisville - Patricia Fallot

• From Massillon - Kathy Catazaro-Perry

• From North Canton - David Held

"We're currently in a climate where all of our communities, there are a lot of communities that really want to see unity, that want to see us come together and pool not just our resources but come together and have a focused conversation together about the issues that face our community, and no one can do it better than we can," said commission member Brenda Stevens.

Stevens said she hopes inviting the mayors to the breakfast will be a catalyst for expanding the commission's programming throughout the year and highlighting the other work that's already being done, so everyone knows what events are happening when.

Students will be involved at the breakfast this year, too. Up to 120 students are expected to attend as part of the Stark County Educational Service Center's "All in" initiative that is centered on improving classroom achievement and equity for students in all districts. The students will display projects they've completed about diversity and inclusion.

This year's breakfast also will include a nationally known speaker. Michael Eric Dyson is a professor of sociology at Georgetown University and has authored nearly 20 books, including several about King. He also is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times and a contributing editor for The New Republic and ESPN's the Undefeated.

Allyson Bussey, who heads Visit Canton, will emcee.

The event is scheduled for 8 a.m. Jan. 17 at the civic center. Tickets are available by calling 330-471-8328.

The breakfast raises money for the commission's scholarship fund.

Reach Alison at 330-580-8312 or alison.matas@cantonrep.com.

On Twitter: @amatasREP