Attending to Unfinished Business

Freedom Breakfast cites progress, issues call to action

Young people answering the call helped drive the landmark 1963 March on Washington that raised the American Civil Rights Movement to international prominence. Now, half a century later, today’s young people must heed the call to address the unfinished business of freedom and justice that remains.

That was the overriding theme of the 24th annual Freedom Breakfast at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, sponsored by the African American Student Union (TAASU). The call to action was sounded by keynote speaker Gwendolyn Grant, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City; as well as by several additional prominent student, university and community leaders.

For the second year in a row, the Freedom Breakfast combined TAASU activities with a program honoring the Herman Johnson African American Scholarship program. Herman and Dorothy Johnson were actively involved at the university for many years. The Johnson Scholarship, established in 1987, was the first scholarship created to increase college opportunities for African American UMKC students.

Tara Johnson, daughter of the couple, urged members of the audience to invest time in the community.

“There are 525,600 minutes in a year,” she reminded listeners. “What have you done with yours since last year’s event?”

In her keynote address, Grant contrasted the civil rights progress made over the past 50 years, with the gaps that remain between the African American community and overall American society.

Today, there are five times as many African Americans with college degrees as in 1963; the rate of African Americans living in poverty is down 20 percentage points, while the rate of home ownership is up 14 points.

“The shiny veneer of progress is being used,” however, to roll back efforts such as affirmative action that have played a major role in driving the progress that has occurred, she said. Black unemployment remains at double digit levels, while overall wealth disparity in this country continues to widen.

“There are still far too many of us who don’t have jobs, far too many who are incarcerated, far too many who are trapped in schools that do not educate them,” Grant said. That is the unfinished business that today’s young people are called to address.

“Fifty years from now, what will be said of the progress that you have made?” she asked. “Those of us who came before you are ready to pass the mantle of leadership. What are you going to do with it? Are your ready to take it up?”

The program began with a video of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dramatic “I Have a Dream” speech delivered at the 1963 March on Washington. The event also included a poetry reading by spoken word artist John “Hypocrace” Lewis; UMKC student Jessica Mitchell singing the Black National Anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”; and a dance performance by Renewed Spirit Ministries.

Also at the event, the Dr. Joseph Seabrooks Jr. Award was presented to Dr. Lynette Sparkman-Barnes, associate director of counseling services at UMKC. The award is presented annually by the TAASU board to recognize a university staff or faculty member for mentorship, leadership and service.

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