Workplace

KC civil rights pioneer Inez Kaiser honored on her 95th birthday

Updated: 2013-04-29T03:57:43Z

By JOE ROBERTSON

The Kansas City Star

To learn about Inez Kaiser’s brand of empowering women, talk to her proteges.

They were everywhere Sunday, sitting among the some 100 people who gathered to celebrate the forceful pioneer’s 95th birthday.

“She kept after me and kept after me,” said Lester Glass, a retired nurse who joined Kaiser in her work to raise the profile of African-American women in business and community service. “She seemed to like me from the beginning. … She’s a very persistent woman.”

So many of the women felt they had been found by Kaiser. They expected to be intimidated by this woman whose marketing firm helped women and minorities stake new ground in business, who lifted women up by starting a local chapter of The Links Inc., an international service organization for professional African-American women.

“She was such a positive power force,” said business consultant and author Gladys Gossett Hankins. “She wanted me to have the connections. I wasn’t that outgoing, but she wanted me to have more influence. She saw qualities in me.”

Men and women, black and white, filled the seats at the party at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center, but it was for those strong women in the audience that entertainer Bukeka Shoals broke out into the fist-pumping “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me...”

Kaiser had begun her career as a home economics teacher in the Kansas City School District, then struck off to open a public relations firm after she saw little opportunity for advancement in public schools in the 1950s.

She pushed herself, and she seemed tireless in urging the same from others, said Gussia Butler, who has known Kaiser since they were elementary schoolgirls.

“She was always trying to bring out the best in everyone,” Butler said. For Butler, that meant getting urged into a more ambitious college choice. It meant joining in her community service work.

In the 1970s, Kaiser was summoned to Washington, D.C., to serve Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford on an advisory panel on minority women in business. That could have been a pinnacle achievement for some.

It was certainly a big deal, Butler said. “She was talking with the president.”

But Kaiser, all these years later, still hardly seems to rest. She’s still encouraging. Still pushing. Still telling it like it is.

Nevada Lee, who has known Kaiser since her childhood and is now Kaiser’s physician, still gets a boost from her when she feels her competitive motivation lagging.

Lee, like so many of Kaiser’s proteges, learned to expect elegance from Kaiser, and then from themselves. Lee let her eyes sweep across the filled room, the elegant tables, the fine food and drink that marked Kaiser’s party.

“I was able to recognize the quality of everything she did,” Lee said. “And this is an example of that.”

And everybody sang “Happy Birthday.”

To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to jrobertson@kcstar.com.

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