Overland Park city councilmembers begin community conversations on racial justice

Overland Park Ward 1 Councilmembers Logan Heley (top left) and Holly Grummert (not pictured) discussed racial justice in the city with four guest speakers. The conversation touched on allyship, anti-racism, Black Lives Matter and what locally elected officials can do to support Black and brown communities.

Two Overland Park city councilmembers, Logan Heley and Holly Grummert, on Tuesday evening hosted a conversation about racial justice in the city.

The Ward 1 elected officials discussed anti-racism, housing access, allyship and the meaning of Black Lives Matter with the following guest speakers:

  • Jenelle Holmes of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of Johnson County
  • Elisha Williams of Johnson County NAACP
  • Linnaia McKenzie, Overland Park protest organizer and member of Johnson County’s Advocacy and Awareness Group
  • Vanessa Vaughn West, the director of diversity and inclusion at Lathrop GPM and a United Community Services of Johnson County board member

Holmes said Black Lives Matter is not discrediting the value of other lives, and the black community nationwide is screaming for help in the fight for racial equity.

“This isn’t a piece of pie,” Holmes said. “Me getting more equality does not give you less equality.”

Linnaia McKenzie, who recently organized a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Overland Park, said she would like to see more transparency in Johnson County voter demographics and solutions to get people of color to vote. Additionally, she said she would like to see housing assistance programs specifically for people of color to diversify the city’s population. File photo.

Heley asked the speakers to weigh in on what Overland Park community leaders, including elected officials, can do about the current state of race relations. McKenzie said leaders should initiate conversations, invite people of color to the table and let them share their feelings and experiences.

West said while an invitation to the table is the first step, and once people of color are at the table, don’t expect them to adhere to the status quo. The point is to bring in different perspectives, she said, so their voices can be heard and policy changes can be enacted as a result of their contribution.

To enact change on a local level, McKenzie said she would like to see more transparency in voter demographics from the county coupled with solutions on how to get people of color to vote. Additionally, she said she would like leaders to look into establishing housing assistance programs specifically for people of color to diversify the city’s population.

Williams said leaders should be champions for communities of color and particularly Black youth who might not know where to go to seek out opportunities. Leaders should work toward constant communication and visibility of resources and services available to youth of color, he said.

“Make sure you let the community know you’ll fight for them,” Williams said. “Sometimes there are situations where we’re only comfortable going to who we know, who we trust and who looks like us — but if there is someone who is championing for us, even though we may not look alike, please make sure you let them know you will fight for them.”

Below is a recording of the racial justice conversation, as recorded by Heley. The recording is followed by a timecode with topics discussed during the event.

We're live! https://www.facebook.com/LoganHeley/videos/711280929711538/

Posted by Councilmember Logan Heley on Tuesday, July 21, 2020

  • At 4:50, guest speakers’ thoughts on Johnson County’s small black population
  • At 8:46, how to maintain a welcoming community and diverse population
  • At 15:40, what community leaders should know about race relations in Overland Park
  • At 23:37, how to make change moving forward and next action steps
  • At 32:18, how to be anti-racist
  • At 49:24, NAACP of JoCo’s current action plans
  • At 52:50, black Johnson County experiences
  • At 1:02:30, final thoughts