Made by History

Today’s African American Students Salute Pioneers at TAASU Breakfast

It was an occasion for looking back, and looking ahead.

Chancellor Leo E. Morton looked back at a childhood growing up in segregated Birmingham, Ala., in the 1960s – and ahead to the responsibility of individuals today to continue the struggle for equality.

Alumnus Weston Parham looked back at the Herman Johnson Scholarship that literally changed his life – and ahead to his responsibility as a member of the Johnson Scholarship board to ensure that every applicant, and not just every scholarship winner, benefits from the experience.

Hundreds of guests inside Pierson Auditorium looked back during a music and video tribute to campus and community African American leaders and pioneers of the past – and ahead to the community’s future leaders, as the board of The African American Student Union (TAASU) took the stage.

The occasion was the 23rd Annual TAASU Freedom Breakfast. This year, the event was combined with a program honoring the Herman Johnson African American Scholarship and helped to raise funds for the scholarship program.

Herman and Dorothy Johnson were actively involved at the University of Missouri-Kansas City for many years. The Johnson Scholarship, established in 1987, was the first scholarship created to increase college opportunities for African American UMKC students. The Herman and Dorothy Johnson Residence Hall, which opened in 2009, was named in the couple’s honor.

Along with its mission to strengthen the communication between its diverse student population and the campus community, the TAASU breakfast showcases student talent, and provides funding for students to attend a leadership conference.

During the program, Chancellor Morton observed that the African American community has made great progress since the days of Jim Crow, but that much more needs to be done.

“It was a lot more ‘in-your-face’ in those years. Now it’s more complex,” Morton said. “The question for today is, how can each of us, as individuals, have an impact?”

Parham recalled his early experiences at UMKC, and how much he learned outside as well as inside the classroom. Caring individuals taught him much about how to carry himself and project maturity and seriousness. Today, as a member of the Herman Johnson Scholarship Board, he strives to pay that gift forward.

“We make sure that we give everyone who interviews with us something. We may not give them money, but we will give them something,” Parham said.

Tara Johnson, daughter of Herman and Dorothy Johnson, also spoke at the breakfast.

“Joining with TAASU is the best thing the Herman Johnson Scholarship has ever done,” she said. “It is a great fit.”

 At the conclusion of the program, the TAASU board presented the annual Joseph Seabrooks Jr. Award to Erica Portley of the athletics department.

Photo Credit: Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

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