The 2015 Academy Award-winning song “Glory,” performed by the hip-hop artist we know as Common (Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr.) and recording artist John Legend, is filled with poetry and prophecy articulating the peril and power of our people whose existence in America has been indelibly marked by the struggle to achieve true freedom, authentic justice and equality in this land.
In the song, released in December 2014, Common states, “Shots, we on the ground, the camera panned up, King pointed to the mountaintop and we ran up.”
For about 45 years, our local KC chapter has been treading ground toward that lofty place of vision where justice and equality for blacks and all people is imagined and fully realized.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference here in Kansas City has experienced a renaissance of spirit, action and leadership, having renewed our determination to activism, advocacy and grass-roots mobilization and collaboration, which our legacy of freedom fighting has given us and which the staunch forces arrayed against justice and equality in this day require.
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Caught up, like Common said, we ran up in 2015 and challenged the city of Kansas City when local government decided unilaterally and without due research and safety considerations for our children to remove stoplights from key intersections of the urban core where mostly black and poor people of color and whites reside. Our advocacy, along with a host of others, reversed many of those decisions at key intersections.
Caught up, we ran up and challenged the Missouri legislature, leading a coalition from across Missouri to engage in civil disobedience, shutting down the Missouri General Assembly in May 2014 for its refusal to receive millions of federal dollars so Medicaid could be expanded.
Caught up, we are running up with a living wage ordinance in hand that eventually was blocked by the Missouri legislature. But we kept running because you the people are worth it.
In November of last year, our legal team filed an appeal with the Missouri Supreme Court asking that the constitutional rights of petitioners be preserved and that the Kansas City voting electorate be given the opportunity to go to the polls to decide whether the working poor who are willing to work for a living deserve a living wage. We believe they do!
Caught up, we are running up with the undereducated, underfunded students of Kansas City Public Schools who are experiencing their public funding diverted to private entrepreneurs. We stand with parent advocates and students whose voices are not being heard. At the same time, our scholarship program gives thousands of dollars to achieving college students every year.
We have been honored to run with fast-food workers, the Missouri Baptist State Convention in its right and just cause to engage economic development, and with our Jewish brothers and sisters who were the targets of a violent attack here in the metro. We will continue to stand with and initiate bold new initiatives to speak for the voiceless and advocate for the oppressed because the God of justice has caught our imagination! Join us as we honor the activism, without which we have nothing to celebrate.
Caught up from the mountaintop!
Vernon Percy Howard Jr. is president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City.