2015: A Year of Obstacles for Some

Photo by Janet Rogers, Strategic Marketing and Communications

2016: A Year of Hope for All

Tragic video and pictures of news reports from Ferguson, Missouri; Columbia, Missouri; and around the United States opened the 26th Annual Freedom Breakfast Jan. 20. The pictures were not presented to dwell on the past, but to be a source of hope for the future.

Each year, the African American Student Union (TAASU) coordinates the scholarship fundraising breakfast to commemorate the 1963 March on Washington during the American civil rights movement, to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and to kick-off African-American History Month in February with an inspirational message.

Kansas Citian Tyrone Flowers delivered that message with these words: “We need to learn from the past, not live in the past.”

“Learn from the past” could be Flowers’ motto. His childhood was difficult. Adults wrote him off. As a youth, Flowers said he was more comfortable with the prospect of going to jail than going to college.

But the belief that he had potential prevailed. Flowers stayed in high school, joined the basketball team and set a goal to play college basketball. Others started believing in him, too.

However, the college basketball goal was derailed before high school graduation when he was shot by a teammate, leaving him paralyzed. That accident changed the course of his life. It was then he knew higher education would be the catalyst to a better life.

When faced with limitations, finding motivation can be a challenge. Flowers knows about limitations. His paralysis is a physical limitation. But Flowers knew his mind was functional and he had something to offer.

“We all have limitations,” Flower said. “Don’t let limitations be your excuse.”

Being a determined individual, Flowers earned a diploma from Penn Valley Community College. He then graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a minor in psychology with academic honors, and went on to receive a Juris Doctorate from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law.

Today, Flowers works with high-risk youth as the president and founder of Higher M-Pact, a community-based organization dedicated to transforming today’s high-risk urban youth into tomorrow’s leaders. In that position, he stresses the power of knowledge, education and mentorship.

“We all need some motivation,” Flowers said. “I grew up not knowing my value. We need to tell our youth that their lives matter. Take the time to talk to others. Let’s get something done.”

UMKC students shared their talents and potential during the TAASU celebration. John T. Swapshire, UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance student, performed a dance solo. Julius Carpenter, UMKC communications studies student, sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often called “the Black National Anthem.” Zakhari Snow, UMKC middle school education student, read a poem.

A special honor, The Bridge Builder Award, was presented by Tara Johnson of the Herman Johnson Foundation. This inaugural award was given to Josh Rowland in memory of his father Landon Rowland, one of Kansas City’s beloved “bridge builders.”

Toya Like, Ph.D., associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at UMKC, was presented with the Dr. Joseph Seabrooks, Jr. Leadership Award. The honor is given annually by the TAASU board to recognize a university staff or faculty member for mentorship, leadership and service. Rakeem Golden, TAASU board member, spoke of Like’s exceptional student mentorship and her development and teaching of the class CJC 390: Blackness as Threat: #blacklivesmatter #handsupdontshoot #icantbreathe.

In the words of UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton: “We have some awesome students here. UMKC is committed to diversity at all places in all ways. When we combine hope with mentorship, you will lift people up. We have that power – that hope.”

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