MCC’s MLK luncheon examines African-American progress and setbacks

Former Chiefs great Willie Lanier (from left), KC Mayor Quinton Lucas, journalist and author Ed Gordon and moderator Steve Kraske discuss the state of African Americans at the 2020 Chancellor’s Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Luncheon. (Photos by Clay Bussey/MCC and Riffel Photography)

Fifty-two years after the assassination of civil rights champion Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., what’s life like for black Americans?

That was the starting point of a discussion at Metropolitan Community College’s MLK luncheon Jan. 17, but it was a comment toward the end that seemed to resonate with those attending.

“Broaden your aperture and try to find ways to seek the truth, as opposed to assumptions,” urged journalist and BET personality Ed Gordon, author of the new book “Conversations in Black.”

Take a stroll you wouldn’t ordinarily take. See a movie you wouldn’t ordinarily see.

In those experiences and in everyday interactions, “it’s OK not to understand” everything. “It’s about dialogue,” Gordon said.

MLK scholarship winner Juliet Ikpeama (third from left) with Chancellor Kimberly Beatty and MLK luncheon committee co-chairs Vicki Westerhaus and Matt Johnson

The Chancellor’s Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Luncheon was an opportunity to honor King’s legacy as well as some outstanding service-minded MCC students. The five students selected this year for the Chancellor’s MLK scholarship will each receive a full year of MCC tuition:

  • Vianae Ramirez, MCC-Blue River
  • Paul McDowell, MCC-Business & Technology
  • Innocent Njobara, MCC-Longview
  • Rhema Prim, MCC-Maple Woods
  • Juliet Ikpeama, MCC–Penn Valley

A video shown at the luncheon introduced the scholarship winners. Watch it here:

About 740 guests were expected at the sold-out luncheon at the Kansas City Marriott Downtown, which raised about $77,000 for student scholarships. Then came the freezing rain.

“It’s so great to see all of you on this beautiful day in Kansas City,” said emcee Elizabeth Alex, an MCC Foundation board member, adding: “I think we lost a few soldiers in the ice.” (About 400 guests made it despite the slippery conditions.)

MCC instructor Millie Nottingham performs “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Lisa Ginter, the event’s honorary chair, is at left.

Chancellor Kimberly Beatty told the crowd that Dr. King taught us “some of life’s greatest lessons,” including a belief in justice, that love is the one thing powerful enough to overcome hate, that education should teach critical thinking and cultivate character, and that “life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”

She mentioned several examples of how donations to the MCC Foundation have helped students overcome difficult financial barriers.

“Contributions like yours today make the difference between success and failure — between succeeding and completing a degree or dropping out and not finishing.”

For anyone who wants to pursue an education, she added, “our doors are open, and the answer is yes.”

Becoming ‘the America we like to present ourselves as’
Ed Gordon’s book “Conversations in Black” was published this month.

The panel discussion featured Gordon as well as former Kansas City Chiefs standout Willie Lanier and Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas. Steve Kraske of KCUR-FM moderated the conversation.

On the topic of whether this is the best of times or worst of times for African Americans, one thing is clear, Gordon said: The notion that Barack Obama’s presidency ushered in a post-racial society was “misguided.”

There have been positive strides for sure. Some African Americans “are doing amazingly well.” But “in the age of Trump,” Gordon said, the climate in our divided country has allowed racist attitudes to emerge from the closet.

Ultimately, he thinks MLK would be “a little disappointed” with where we are in 2020.

We sometimes hear that the most segregated time of the week in America is when people go to worship. Gordon’s take is that it’s dinnertime, any day of the week.

Look around a restaurant at lunch and you’re likely to see diversity, as co-workers enjoy a meal together. The evening meal, however, is often a completely different matter.

Americans need to continue King’s quest for justice to become “the America we like to present ourselves as on the world stage,” Gordon said.

Moderator Kraske, host of KCUR’s “Up to Date,” told Gordon he’d recognize a lot of the questions he posed because they came from his new book.

Willie Lanier has pursued knowledge and data since he was a kid delivering newspapers.

The genesis of “Conversations in Black” was Gordon’s realization that some of the best chats he had with TV show guests happened “after the red light went off.” He’d thought maybe he could gather a group of African-American heavy-hitters in one room. That didn’t happen, but the book was put together to read like a conversation among the participants.

Lanier, who enjoyed an 11-season career with the Kansas City Chiefs (including playing in Super Bowl IV in 1970), said knowledge has been a guiding principle in his life. That started at age 12 growing up in segregated Richmond, Virginia, when he became a newspaper carrier — and eventually a newspaper reader. That’s a habit that stuck for life. “Data is the key.”

With a former Chief on the stage and the AFC championship game two days away, there was also some talk about African Americans as NFL quarterbacks. Everyone loves Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, Gordon said, “but would we see him completely differently if he wore a Chiefs hoodie but was not the quarterback?”

MCC and MCC Foundation officials with student scholarship winners

More photos from the event:

MCC Foundation Executive Director Jessica Ramirez (from left), Chancellor Kimberly Beatty, former Chiefs player Bobby Bell
MCC Foundation board members Matt McFadden (from left), Bret Bonge, Matt Johnson
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas
Lanier signs a copy of the recently published book “ ’69 Chiefs: A Team, A Season and the Birth of Modern Kansas City.”
Emmet Pierson of the Black Community Fund
Emcee Elizabeth Alex (left) with honorary chair Lisa Ginter
The conclusion of the lunch turned into a mini-pep rally for the Chiefs two days before the AFC championship game.
Gordon signs a copy of his book for MCC’s Caron Daugherty.
Chancellor Kimberly Beatty
The event was held in the Count Basie Ballroom at the Kansas City Marriott Downtown.
Scholarship winner Paul McDowell (third from left) with Chancellor Kimberly Beatty, Vicki Westerhaus and Matt Johnson
Scholarship winner Innocent Njobara (third from left) with Chancellor Kimberly Beatty, Vicki Westerhaus and Matt Johnson


Lisa Ginter of CommunityAmerica Credit Union was honorary chair of the 2020 Chancellor’s Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Luncheon. Matt Johnson and Vicki Westerhaus co-chaired the MCC Foundation’s MLK Luncheon Committee. Matt McFadden is chair of the MCC Foundation Board of Directors. Jessica Ramirez is executive director of the MCC Foundation.

Dream Maker (presenting) sponsor: CommunityAmerica Credit Union

Other sponsors:

Freedom: Carter Broadcast Group

Peace: Black Community Fund; Cerner; Control Service Company; Evergy; McCownGordon; John and Marny Sherman; Rainy Day Books

Love: Bank of America; Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP; JE Dunn Construction; Husch Blackwell; Lathrop GPM; Newmark Grubb Zimmer; Sprint

Transformational: Arvest Bank; BKD; BNIM; Cleaver for Congress; Honeywell; Humphrey, Farrington, McClain; Hunt Midwest; Kansas City Area Development Council; Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences; University of Kansas (KU), University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC) and KU Edwards Campus; Truman Medical Centers; UMB

Hope: American Century Investments; Andrews McMeel Universal; Bank Midwest; Bank of Blue Valley; City of Kansas City, Missouri; City Wide Maintenance; Commerce Bank; Downtown Council of Kansas City; Excel Global Partners; Five Star Tax & Business Solutions; Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce; Kansas City Chiefs; Kansas City Royals Baseball Club; MarkOne; Mid-Continent Public Library; National WWI Museum and Memorial; Port KC; SchoolSmart KC; SynergyPhD; Turner Construction; Union Station Kansas City; William Jewell College; YMCA