MCC-Penn Valley event to feature ‘Some of My Best Friends Are Black’ author

Students and classes at MCC-Penn Valley have spent chunks of the school year discussing Tanner Colby’s book “Some of My Best Friends Are Black,” a history of modern U.S. race relations. Now they’ll get a chance to hear from the author in person.

Tanner Colby

Colby will take part in two panel discussions and a book signing April 20 as part of the campus’ second annual Common Read Convention. The morning events are open to Penn Valley students and the community. Afternoon events are for about 300 area high school students who’ve also read the book.

“Some of My Best Friends Are Black,” first published in 2012, is subtitled “The Strange Story of Integration in America.” One section discusses Kansas City’s racist real estate practices of the past and how Troost Avenue came to be a racial dividing line.

MCC-Penn Valley’s Common Read project is “our way of making literature part of the everyday lives of our students,” says Michael Korklan, Penn Valley library director and Common Read committee chair.

The committee works with faculty to select a book, which is then required reading in many English and social science classes. A variety of programs related to topics in the book have been held this school year.

The Johnson County Library Foundation, Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, Johnson County Library and Metropolitan Community College are sponsoring Colby’s visit to Kansas City.

Here’s the schedule for the Common Read Convention on Thursday, April 20:

10-10:45 a.m.: Tanner Colby book signing (open to students and the public), Little Theater, MCC-Penn Valley Science & Technology building (Room 101)

11 a.m.-12:15 p.m.: Panel discussion on topics raised in the book (open to students and the public), Little Theater, Science & Technology 101. Panelists: author Tanner Colby, author Garrett Griffin (“Racism in Kansas City”), community activist and MCC alumnus Alvin Brooks, and MCC political science instructor Deborah Scott. The discussion will be moderated by MCC-Penn Valley interim president Dr. Tony Ross.

During the morning, the high school students will take a bus tour of Kansas City landmarks “pertinent to the story of segregation, integration and the failures of integration in Kansas City.” Inspired by Colby’s book and developed by educator and community activist Paul Richardson, the tour is curated by the Johnson County Library’s civic engagement committee.

The high school students will be the convention audience that afternoon at MCC-Penn Valley. (They’re coming from Alta Vista Charter, St. Teresa’s Academy, Paseo, Notre Dame de Sion, Raytown, Wyandotte, KU Upward Bound, Blue Valley Northwest and Shawnee Mission East.) Kansas City spoken-word artist Glenn North will emcee the afternoon events:

12:45-1:45 p.m.: Panel discussion on real estate segregation in Kansas City. Panelists: author Tanner Colby, KC real estate attorney Shomari Benton and Kansas City Public Schools chief communications officer Natalie Allen.  The discussion will be moderated by Lewis Diuguid, former columnist and editorial writer for The Kansas City Star.

After the panel discussion, the high school students will break into small-group discussions facilitated by MCC-Penn Valley students. “It’s an opportunity for our students who’ve read the book to engage more with the content and also practice leadership skills,” Korklan says.

“Some of My Best Friends Are Black” was nominated for the American Library Association’s 2013 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction.

Colby is also is the co-author of “Remember the Time: Protecting Michael Jackson in His Final Days,” “Belushi” and “The Chris Farley Show.” He co-founded the “About Race” podcast and is a producer at Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” Colby, who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, now lives in Brooklyn, New York.