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Kansas City Partnership Highlights Local Black History

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A new book highlights local Black historical figures 200 years after Missouri became a state in 1821. (Kansas City Black History Partnership)
A new book highlights local Black historical figures 200 years after Missouri became a state in 1821. (Kansas City Black History Partnership)
 By Lily Bohlke - Producer, Contact
February 23, 2021

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A decade-long partnership in Kansas City is lifting up local stories of Black community-building and struggles for justice and equity, during and beyond Black History Month.

The Kansas City Public Library, the Black Archives of Mid-America and the Kansas City Local Investment Commission (LINC) have produced a book of stories collected over a decade.

Dr. Carmaletta Williams, executive director for the Black Archives of Mid-America, wrote in an introductory essay of when "Black Kansas Citians sat up, sat in, kicked down doors, and broke through glass ceilings," from obtaining civil and human rights and educations for their children, to health care and fire and police protection.

"We're living in what has traditionally been a black history drought," Williams explained. "So this then gives a boost to illuminating the life and culture and history of Black people in this area."

Williams added the stories of people such as her grandparents, who didn't make it into the history books but helped create the vibrant Black community where she grew up, are the types of stories the project strives to tell.

Brent Schondelmeyer, deputy director for community engagement at LINC, a community partnership affiliated with the Missouri Family and Community Trust, said the book spans almost two centuries, and tells the stories of Kansas City's Black educators, entrepreneurs, journalists, writers, politicians and more over time.

"Black History is our country's history, is our community's histories," Schondelmeyer asserted. "And it happens not just in February; it happens every day of the week."

Glenn North, executive director for the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center and poet laureate of the 18th and Vine Historic Jazz District, was commissioned to write a poem, called "I Sing Their Names."

North detailed what he calls his origin story, the events that brought his grandparents, both educators, to Kansas City.

"Perhaps that is why I love this city more than it loves me," North remarked. "Still proud to say it's where I'm from because I know who came before me. My feet are firmly planted on their shoulders. Those who shine brightly beyond February right into eternity."

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