Despite the ongoing economic downturn, at the last minute this cowtown went out if its way to celebrate the legacy of a Civil Rights Legend. Reports indicate the MLK party in Kansas City, Kansas might have hosted the biggest turnout overall given that it was more of a grassroots affair and didn’t come with any of the political posturing included in most KCMO and Jackson County MLK soirees.
I was lucky enough to get a free seat at the NAACP Olathe Chapter MLK Celebration and I’d like to share just a few of the things I’ve learned along with my thoughts on the festivities.
I’ll start this missive by noting that the food was excellent. Admittedly, free food always tastes better but the Marriott in Overland Park cooks up one Hell of a chicken fillet. Even better, the servers were all middle-aged white ladies, so the visit to JoCo with post-menopausal women waiting on me was a nice trip down memory lane – reminiscent of how I spend weekends during my childhood visiting friends with far more cash.
In any event, I’d like to think I learned something about equality and diversity from the nearly 3 hour dinner and awards ceremony. Here’s what I remember:
1. High School Students from the suburbs are remarkably ignorant about the legacy of MLK. I wasn’t expecting miracles on this front, but the audience of at least 300 had to endure the meandering thoughts of youngsters and their ideas on MLK. It was every bit as horrible as I imagined it would be: The only entertaining part was the mini-Rush Limbaugh speech that bravely challenged Al Sharpton from half a country away. The only comforting thought was that these brilliant young minds will likely consign themselves to lives of quiet desperation and middle-management jobs rather than continue pursuing the mostly self-righteous ideas they put forward last night.
2. Olathe NAACP dude Henry E. Lyons is really funny, charming and a great guy. Seriously, he did a nice job as Master of Ceremonies. My only concern was that he doesn’t have much in common with the Civil Rights Leaders on the Missouri side with which I’m more accustomed. In fact, his affable manner made me wonder if there were any real Civil Rights struggles left to fight. Maybe Obama really has transcended race and somebody forgot to tell me.
3. Strangest of all: The room was mostly filled with white people. Again, the turnout for an MLK party in JoCo didn’t have much in common with similar events in KCMO. Nevertheless, the heavy police presence was strangely comforting given that the suburban Police departments are at least attempting to do some kind of outreach despite the Sunflower State’s sordid history with racial profiling.
4. Justice and equality is no fun without door prizes. Again, Lyons awarding door prizes was probably the most entertaining part of the evening.
5. Don’t forget to schmooze when fighting for diversity. I was lucky enough to sit next to Kansas City Star columnist Steve Penn at the event and ask a bevy of questions about his career. I think I learned a lot but the two points that stuck out for me were that he has been at Kansas City’s paper-or-record for 30 years and he started out writing obituaries. It was an enlightening chat that didn’t even touch on the subject of race or diversity and some (sappy) people might think of that as progress.
All things considered MLK Day in KC was less commercial, less political and probably more meaningful during this Great Recession where (for the most part) the public is more focused on survival rather than petty posturing.