It could be argued that, collectively, every citizen of a city helps to define it.
Families that have been here for generations, certainly, have the historical background; residents that have called Lee’s Summit home for a decade, a year or even a month, too, have a stake in this narrative.
Our school district population, largely, mirrors our city population in race, ethnicity and socio-economic background.
Lately, though, the diversity and racial narrative is being delivered in a way that, frankly, is pretty offensive to those who live day-to-day in Lee’s Summit. And what’s most disappointing are those that endorse and perpetuate that narrative — either by directing the continual barrage of racist overtones into the conversation, or by their sheer silence on the topic every time Lee’s Summit gets walloped in the press.
After a recent piece used an absolutely flammable phrase in the headline, we have to stand up as a community and take control of our own message.
Where on earth are our school, city and business leaders as our community continues to take body blows in the corner of the ring? Where are our school board candidates on this issue, one they will most assuredly inherit if elected? All fair questions given months and months of this narrative.
Let’s first acknowledge that some forms of racism unfortunately still exist in all segments of our society, not just in Lee’s Summit, where, yes, we are a largely white and affluent community.
But the color of 80-plus percent of our skin cannot and absolutely does not determine the extent of the character of so many citizens of this city.
Black and white, white and black have worked together for the good of Lee’s Summit for decades.
Black volunteers tutor white students in our schools. White volunteers read to black students in the classroom. Businesses with predominantly white employees become partners in education with elementary schools and classes. Black leaders take their expertise on job searches and employment and resume writing to classes that are heavily white.
Leaders of all races have been elected to city council, served in CEO roles at our hospitals and colleges and have been influential in all aspects of Lee’s Summit’s growth, stability, business sector and educational system.
When we read stories and watch comment threads on Lee’s Summit, do we shake our heads in disbelief, nod in agreement, perhaps wish that the narrative that is seemingly causing fractures into so many areas of our city would be addressed by those weighing in and those being silent?
We need action and we need it now.
The City of Lee’s Summit has a Human Relations Commission that works on many aspects of diversity and racial issues and is charged with planning the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. event that celebrates in so many ways not only the varied cultures of our citizens, but just how far we have come over years to be an inclusive, understanding and respectful community.
The HRC has invaluable community members meeting regularly to address very specific topics in Lee’s Summit. Among their roles is to “facilitate the formation of local community groups to initiate and coordinate discussions between individuals or groups in order to lessen tensions and promote human relations understanding in the City,” and “encourage the cooperation of all community groups, both private and public, and work with civil rights organizations, community organizations, law enforcement agencies, school districts and other community educational institutions and other groups to foster better human relations among the citizenry of Lee’s Summit and within the surrounding communities when those relations will significantly impact the quality of life in Lee’s Summit.”
We need a town hall-type meeting immediately, preferably run by a group as diverse and with as much knowledge as the HRC, to address what some leaders apparently can’t or won’t: that we are near a boiling point of racial tensions in Lee’s Summit and that this unenviable spot we find ourselves is not only unwarranted, but this topic is well within our grasp as a community to tackle respectfully and tactfully.
The Human Relations Commission was approved by our then-Board of Aldermen back in 1964 and consists of a wonderfully diverse group of leaders, advocates, business owners and citizens. It has the history and the knowledge to tackle this lofty of a conversation.
We don’t have to watch the toxic headlines rocket past us as a community. And we certainly don’t have to sit idly by as Lee’s Summit is portrayed in a way that is contrary — or at the very least, short-sighted — to what so many of us know.
Acknowledging an achievement gap among white and black students should never have been a stepping stone to disastrous discussions and inflammatory rhetoric.
No one’s voice should be stymied or unheard during this conversation. I am making my voice heard through my column, but acknowledge this: my outlook as a white male will never fully know the difficulties others have encountered.
We have exceptional leaders in our community. Some of them hold elected office. Others sit on city or school commissions or committees. And still others own businesses.
It’s time they come together for a common good — one that doesn’t care what you make, what color you are, where you work or what church you attend.
That good is Lee’s Summit. It’s where we live. And damn if it isn’t worth fighting for.
Editor's Note: John Beaudoin is a Lee's Summit resident and award winning writer and former newspaper publisher in the Lee's Summit community. Views and opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily reflect those of Link 2 Lee's Summit, it's employees or any other guest contributors.