On Sunday, Nov. 18, UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton was presented with the 2012 Henry W. Bloch Human Relations Award by the Jewish Community Relations Bureau|American Jewish Committee. He was honored at the JCRB|AJC Human Relations Dinner at The Westin Crown Center.
Morton, 67, is the first African-American leader of UMKC. He became chancellor after decades of accomplishment in corporate world – and after serving many years on the UMKC Board of Trustees.
He was honored for his commitment to justice, his service to the community, his civic leadership and vision and his devotion to our city. The JCRB presents the award annually.
“Leo has a powerful history, and he changes lives every day,” Marvin Szneler, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee, told the Kansas City Star. “He has no way of knowing the powerful impact he has had on race relations.”
The humanitarian award honored Morton’s role as an eyewitness to the Civil Rights movement growing up in Birmingham, Ala., as someone who not only survived the injustices of the time but someone who went on to achieve the dreams his family had for him despite the obstacles.
Morton spoke movingly of growing up in a world that may not match people’s stereotype of growing up black and poor in the South. He was born into a close-knit family whose life centered on family, education and church.
“Mine is not a rags-to-riches kind of story,” Morton said.
He was deeply influenced by the chaotic events of the time: the murder of Emmett Till, the heroism of Rosa Park on the bus, church bombings that took the life of neighbors or friends. But his strong upbringing kept him focused on moving forward.
He said he felt his upbringing gave him no excuse not to achieve great things. His parents – indeed, his community, expected it of him. And he couldn’t do that by getting mired in the injustice of the time.
This award is named for Henry W. Bloch, whose quiet brand of leadership and compassion has set a benchmark for community activism and an extraordinary civic standard.
“I know what the award stands for,” former UM System President Gary Forsee told The Star. “It is a lifetime achievement award, and it is exactly what Leo embodies in his life and as a leader.”
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