Civil rights progress can’t be happenstance

09/08/2013 5:00 PM

09/08/2013 5:57 PM

For the last 21 weeks, this column displayed the successes of the civil rights movement, exactly 50 years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Black executives credited the movement, their families and the black community for opportunities they received.

But none of it was planned. The movement was the cosmic soup making it possible for African-American talent to finally emerge.

The 50th anniversary commemorations of the March on Washington last month emphasized that the evolution toward equality must continue. The executives interviewed offer a road map for the next half-century. The constitutional guarantees that King died for can’t be happenstance.

Below are highlights, ideas offered to ensure progress continues:

Gwendolyn Grant, who heads the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, and barbecue baron Ollie W. Gates urge a rebirth of housing, businesses and jobs in the 3rd and 5th districts. Companies need a succession plan to train black youths as future leaders.

Leo Morton, University of Missouri-Kansas City chancellor, said black children need a vision for the future, enabling them to do well in school, go to college and be leaders. Closing the achievement gap is everyone’s responsibility.

Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté said for justice’s sake, his department must recruit and retain more black officers. The department must mirror the community.

Missouri Court of Appeals Western District Judge Lisa White Hardwick suggested intensive training academies to help prepare black youths for careers. She said crime must end so safety and living past age 20 aren’t black kids’ chief concerns.

Julia Hill, former president of the Kansas City NAACP, wants adults to be more engaged with black youths. The focus must be on the collective good.

Anita L. Russell, current president of the Kansas City NAACP, seeks better schools and lower incarceration rates.

Kansas City Superintendent Stephen Green’s pre-kindergarten to elementary school children in his majority-minority district will benefit from future civil rights gains. But he must educate them to overcome crime, poverty and violence.

The arts can’t be left out of the civil rights future, and African-Americans need to step up to better fill the pipeline of talent, said Jacqueline Chanda, president of the Kansas City Art Institute.

John W. Bluford III, president and CEO of Truman Medical Center, Blue Springs Mayor Carson Ross and Kansas City Mayor Sly James said young people must develop meaningful relationships and coalitions through continued conversations with a diversity of others.

Brent A. Stewart, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Kansas City, wants organizations to unite to end poverty and the racial disparities in a way that King brought groups together.

Doris F. Givens, president of Kansas City Kansas Community College, said colleges can help long-neglected communities undergo a rebirth with science, technology and math training for 21st century careers and business ownership.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver knows that black history must not be neglected in schools for progress to accelerate.

Maurice A. Watson, chairman of the prestigious law firm, Husch Blackwell, said black churches must help train future leaders as they did for people like him.

Full voter participation is essential for civil rights progress, advises A. Shelley McThomas, director of the Kansas City Board of Election Commissioners.

Joe Seabrooks, president of Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley, said African-Americans must turn away from media noise, exercise and develop better diets to keep their minds and bodies sharp.

These things will help people sidestep the anger Derron L. Black described of being left out and ensure a better future for all.

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