Sylvester James Jr.

Former Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor

Where were you born and raised?
Born in Kansas City, Kansas. Raised in Kansas City, Missouri, on East 44th Street & Montgall Avenue.

What is your occupation?
Attorney, consultant, mediator and former KCMO mayor.

What is your favorite childhood memory?
Playing CYO baseball in grade school and lead singer in The Amelia Earhart Memorial Flying Band in high school

What does Black History Month mean to you?
It’s the one time a year when this country purposely recognizes the contributions of African Americans. It represents a correction and supplementation of American history.

What do you believe is the most important issue currently facing the Black community?
Economic and educational inequities.

When did you realize you were Black in America and what has that meant for your life?
Interesting question. I realized I was Black from the first time I realized I “was." My realization heightened and made acute whenever we traveled and saw “Colored” filthy toilets, places we could not eat or sleep, and menacing stares. It has meant that I also had to be better than my white counterparts just to be considered as equal or “ qualified”. It meant that I had to learn how a Black kid/Black man was supposed to interact with the white majority and power system. I learned that there were often times when I had to purposely ignore and/or expel lowered expectations of the majority in work, school, and other areas. It meant that the burden often fell on me to make the initial efforts to bridge racial gaps. It meant that I could not, on the one hand, rebel against the applications of stereotypes to me and ignore the stereotypes I might be prone to apply to others. It means that after experiencing the rotten taste of bigotry and discrimination, I am loath to discriminate against others.

Who or what is your biggest inspiration to push for change?
My children and grandchildren have had the luxury of quality educations because my parents instilled the need for education in me. ALL children, particularly Black, Brown, and poor kids need taxes to equitable education opportunities in order to acquire the skills they need to compete in an increasingly technological economy. The fact that this huge disparity of options and quality still exists in this society is based on the systemic racism that creates segregated housing and chronic poverty.

How have you supported or contributed to the local Black community?
I championed education through the creation of Turn The Page KC and the push for a sales tax to provide high quality universal pre-k. I engaged in economic development in the community as mayor and as mentor before and after that time. I served on the Boards for Genesis School, Operation Breakthrough, Bishop Hogan High School, United Way etc. I served as President of the African American Mayors Association, I made it a point to increase African Americans on the boards and commissions of city government. I support Black business enterprises and entrepreneurs. I advocate for Black kids.

Season of Hope Toy Drive