Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Greenville, Mississippi on September 4, 1950. I moved to Kansas City at the beginning of second grade.
What is your occupation?
Jackson County, Missouri county executive; Former second baseman for the Kansas City Royals.
What is your favorite childhood memory?
When we moved to Kansas City, we lived in the basement of my aunt’s house for a year. I remember how happy and excited I was when my parents got our first home and we moved in. I didn’t get my own room – I had to share it with my brother – but we were finally able to settle in as a family.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
We all know about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the countless other Black leaders who sacrificed for us to have what we do today. While we celebrate their accomplishments all year ‘round, it’s important that we use the month of February – Black History Month – to come together as a county, state and nation, with purpose, to reflect on and respect their work, while looking forward to the possibilities we have to advance and improve the quality of life for all Black people. I believe that Black people who have a dream and make the sacrifices to accomplish those dreams are making their own Black history, as well as setting a good example for their families, community and others who dare to dream.
What do you believe is the most important issue currently facing the Black community?
For me, there isn’t just one issue. We need to provide a fair and equitable quality of life for the black community in the areas of jobs, wages, housing, health care and criminal justice reform. All of these issues are intertwined, so it is my hope that addressing one of these challenges will lead to real, tangible solutions for others.
When did you realize you were Black in America and what has that meant for your life?
I was born in Mississippi in the 1950's. So, at a young age, I knew what it meant to be Black, especially living in a part of the country where segregation and discrimination were prevalent. After we moved to Kansas City, my parents would take my siblings and I to Mississippi to spend the summer. On our trips there, I remember the white-only water fountains and bathrooms. I remember having to use the bathroom on the side of the road because we weren’t allowed to use the one at the gas station. Yet, that very same gas station would take our money. It makes me angry just thinking about it. I also picked cotton. And as I think back, it was extremely hard and very humiliating. But through all of this ridicule and feeling less than, my experiences of being Black in America have taught me to persevere, follow my dreams, be bold, be brave and embrace my differences.
Who or what is your biggest inspiration to push for change?
My mom and dad have always been my biggest inspiration. They taught me what working hard was all about. They taught me about humility. They taught me about respect. My motto is hard work plus opportunity equals success. And every day, I do my best to be the epitome of that. We all have family and personal experiences that shape how we see our community and give us hope that things can be better. If we simply take advantage of those opportunities for change and put in the work, progress will happen. The key is never giving up.
How have you supported or contributed to the local Black community?
My desire to help my community started at a young age. As a child growing up, I was always concerned about the welfare of my elderly neighbors. I would do my part to take care of them by cutting their grass, shoveling their snow, raking their leaves, shopping for and carrying their groceries home for them. That desire to serve my community carried over into my career as a professional baseball player. I wanted to give back to the community as it was giving to me, and as a result, I got involved with charitable events, many of which focused on seniors and children that I support to this day. As your County Executive, I can use my platform to help people by advocating for policy changes on the issues affecting the Black community most - jobs, wages, housing, health care and criminal justice reform. For example, we’ve “banned the box” on county applications so those with criminal records can have fair consideration for county jobs; we’ve instituted a plan that provides fair and livable wages to county associates; we provide millions in funding every year to social service agencies across the community that aid in improving the health and safety of our children, elderly and families. With the challenges facing the Black community now, my work is far from over. But, it is my goal to have the most positive impact in this role while I have the opportunity – again, living by my motto – hard work plus opportunity equals success.