The Northeast area of Kansas City, Kan., today reminds Doris F. Givens of Amarillo, Texas, when she grew up there.
Because of segregation and racism, blacks in Amarillo had to do without. Similarly Northeast Kansas City, Kan., is doing without. It has many vacant lots, few businesses and few jobs in what was a thriving black community.
“The ideal is the community should have a majority of its needs met, and that is not the reality,” said Givens, president of Kansas City Kansas Community College. That resembles the old segregated South.
Givens, who graduated from high school in 1962, said it wasn’t until 1967 that schools in Amarillo caught on to the Supreme Court’s 1950s “all deliberate speed” ruling ending legal segregation. In Amarillo, blacks had to pay a poll tax to vote and weren’t allowed to go to movie theaters until the 1960s.
“It was the way things were,” Givens said. “I didn’t understand all of it until I got out of it, read and moved around.”
Givens married a serviceman, leading her to such places as Washington, D.C., and Okinawa. When Givens returned to the states as a single mom, she began her education as a nontraditional student.
“My drive to succeed was because of my parents,” said Givens, whose father was a Baptist minister and mother a schoolteacher. During part of the civil rights movement, she was out of the country.
“I wish I could say I was one of those folks marching for civil rights, but I missed that,” Givens said. “I was a beneficiary of all that.”
Givens continued her education from 1975 to 1999, earning a doctorate in community college leadership from the University of Texas-Austin. She taught at San Diego City College 13 years before vaulting into community college administration.
Those jobs included many black firsts such as president of Spokane Community College, interim president of Los Angeles City College, interim president of West Los Angeles College and vice chancellor of educational services at Kern Community College District in California. Givens became the first African American president at Kansas City Kansas Community College in 2011. She is guided by faith and a need to treat people humanely.
She handed me her “A Workplace Prayer.” I like this line: “Lord Jesus, I thank you for the gifts you have given me. I do not take them lightly, but commit to using them responsibly and well. Give me a fresh supply of truth and beauty on which to draw as I do my job.”
Givens hopes to empower the 8,000 students at the community college, which will help lead to the revitalization of long-neglected parts of Kansas City, Kan.
The college is putting the finishing touches on a technical school that is to open in August with the latest innovations. It will train students for the jobs and businesses that will fill Kansas City, Kan., in the next 50 years.
She said the next 50 years will include more entrepreneurs and black businesses that are fully supported by the community. “I feel Kansas City, Kan., is rebirthing,” Givens said.
“It is on the precipice of change,” she said. “I really feel that sense of excitement.”
But she worries about funding for education and hopes the African Americans running those future companies and filling top jobs won’t be as isolated as she had been in her career.
“The support socially and psychologically is just not available much of the time,” Givens said. “You do what you do and you do more than what’s expected or required, and yet there’s not the same inclusion.”
She feels embraced in Kansas City, Kan., unlike other cities. But she wants the inclusion here welded into the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream for the next 50 years so students graduate socially and intellectually fulfilled.