Award for Activism

Leo E. Morton
Chancellor Leo E. Morton survived injustices to achieve his family's dreams.

Chancellor honored as source of inspiration


UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton has been honored with the 2012 Henry W. Bloch Human Relations Award by the Jewish Community Relations Bureau|American Jewish Committee.

Morton, 67, is the first African-American leader of UMKC. He was honored for his commitment to justice, his service to the community, his civic leadership and vision and his devotion to the city.

“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.”

According to the JCRB, the award is given to someone who inspires the citizens of our community and exemplifies exceptional leadership and community activism.

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.

The award is named for Henry W. Bloch. The JCRB announcement cites Bloch as an individual “whose quiet brand of leadership and compassion has set a benchmark for community activism and an extraordinary civic standard. He is a man devoted to principle, a caring visionary of exemplary character and integrity, a role model in the pursuit of justice and an inspiration to the citizens of our community.”

The dinner annually honors Bloch, and in 2012, Morton, for a lifetime of justice and selflessness and for making our community a better place in which to live, as exemplified by Henry W. Bloch.

“Over his lifetime, Leo Morton has not only done an excellent job in his career, but he has inspired countless individuals by the life he has lived, and the examples he has set. His approach to management is very engaging, which coupled with his knowledge and outlook for excellent education make him a very skilled leader. I am very honored that he has agreed to accept this year’s Human Relations Award given by the JCRB|AJC,” Bloch commented.

“Leo Morton’s life story is a wonderful testament to perseverance and determination. He was raised in Birmingham, Alabama, in the early 1960s through the harrowing days of Bull Connor, fire hoses and attack dogs. The fact that Leo was able to survive and thrive is a remarkable feat that he credits to family, community and education. We have much to learn from his life experience,” said Michael J. Abrams, a former president of the JCRB|AJC who serves on the dinner committee.

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