Where were you born and raised?
What is your occupation?
Lawyer and Activist.
What is your favorite childhood memory?
My mother owned a dance school in Wichita, KS named Taps Dance Co. She devoted her life to giving Black children confidence and the gift of dance. Every spring, she produced dance recitals for her students. My mom wrote and directed a musical called "Cynda’Ella." On the night of the show, the house was packed. She played "The Greatest Love of All" before the curtains opened. Then the lights went up. So many beautiful little Black girls and boys in costumes and sequins and makeup floating and tap dancing out of the wings. Everyone had been practicing for months and it showed. Every single routine was executed perfectly. And at final curtain call, the standing ovation seemed to go on forever. I felt like a star for the first time.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month is about Sankofa. There is so much rich beauty, strength, power, and magic running through the history of Black Americans. Adults and children deserve to celebrate that history; whether it is centuries, decades, or just days old. Black History Month is a short moment dedicated to centering the great accomplishments and contributions that Black Americans have bestowed on this country and its culture.
What do you believe is the most important issue currently facing the Black community?
The Black Community is not a monolith with a single most important issue. In Kansas City, Black people are in mortal danger from police violence which continues to be unchecked; our communities have been inequitably funded and divested of community resources for generations; our household net worths are one tenth of white households because of decades of racist laws and policies; and we are continuously gaslighted about community violence which is the direct result of systemic racism and the pervasive inaction and failures of local, state, and national political leadership.
When did you realize you were Black in America and what has that meant for your life?
There is realizing you are Black, which is beautiful and excellent. I always knew I was Black as a part of my identity. My mother was my first teacher of the beauty of my Blackness. Then there is the realization that America views you as a nigger. By some miracle, I never experienced being a nigger in America until KCPD unlawfully arrested me on the Plaza when I was 37 years old, a dually licensed attorney for 10 years, an employer and a well known community advocate. KCPD completely stripped me of any actual or perceived privilege that I had built for myself. They robbed me of my dignity, I was caged like an animal, and I had and still have this inescapable feeling of injustice. It has completely and permanently changed me. That single moment changed the trajectory of my life.
Who or what is your biggest inspiration to push for change?
I do not want my nieces to face the same oppression that I am fighting. Black people have been struggling for freedom since we were brought to this country. I am fighting so we are the last generation that has to struggle to realize all the promises that America have given us.
How have you supported or contributed to the local Black community?
For the last ten years, I have been in the community providing widespread access to legal education; our law firm has a five point social justice platform: reuniting families, restoring driving privileges, voter empowerment, felony expungement/financial aid, and strengthening local businesses; I am a motivational speaker for children in the urban core; have been a community partner with the "Know Joey? Foundation" for several years; and have organized for several grassroots political campaigns.