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A Necessary Dialogue

letter from kansas leadership center president & CEO Ed o’malley

Exploring how the Kansas Leadership Center should respond
to a series of heartrending events gripping our nation

 

Baton Rouge. St. Paul. Dallas.

What happened in those three cities in the days following the Fourth of July could happen anywhere in America, including the cities and towns of Kansas. On Tuesday of that week, Alton Sterling died at the hands of police officers in Baton Rouge. I read about it the next day.

My heart ached. And then I went on. Maybe you did too.

On Wednesday, police officers killed Philando Castile in St. Paul. The next day, I saw the shocking video, taken by his girlfriend and showing Mr. Castile dying, on my social media feed as I waited at a long stoplight in the Kansas City area. Sick to my stomach and emotional, my eyes filled with tears.

Was this to be a daily occurrence now?

The light turned green; my thoughts turned. Our KLC board of directors’ retreat was to start that evening.

 

The killings didn’t become part of our board’s discussion that night. They were occasionally on my mind throughout dinner. But we talked about the center and listened to the stories of three alumni who joined us that night.

 

Alone in my quiet hotel room later, I had trouble sleeping. The killings kept coming to mind.

My alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. I checked my phone. Dallas.

Baton Rouge. St. Paul. Dallas.

Our board chair began the meeting with a moment of silence for the loss of life in Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas. But then we moved on to discussing the business of KLC. We took a bus to visit places in Johnson and Wyandotte counties where our alumni are putting KLC ideas to work. The events of that week didn’t really come up until lunch.

A half-dozen alums from Kansas City, all African Americans, had joined the meeting. I don’t remember exactly what one of our faculty members said, but she ignited a conversation that mattered.

A collection of black, white, Asian and Hispanic Kansans shared their thoughts and experiences. Black men from Kansas City – KLC alums – shared what it was like to be pulled over by law enforcement officers. White businessmen from mainly white communities asked questions.

A microcosm of Kansas was present. From many backgrounds and professions. Different races and political beliefs. Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas stayed in the middle of the conversation. We explored. We learned. We weren’t closer to knowing what, if anything, we could or should do. But the conversation was deep and productively heated.

We then toured some of the most economically depressed neighborhoods in Kansas – just a few minutes away from posh areas of Johnson County. Discussions continued. The board began contemplating what KLC could or should do. What’s our part?

By the next morning, an idea crystalized. KLC would convene alums to diagnose this situation. It’s an adaptive challenge, after all. Everyone has the same goal. No one wants senseless loss of life. But when the goal is the same for almost everyone and progress is still elusive you know you are dealing with a deep, daunting, adaptive challenge.

Will anything happen because of one convening hosted by KLC? I don’t think so. But it’s what we can do and it’s what we will do. And we’ll use what we learn to help us discern what we should do next. This is KLC “acting experimentally.” I hope you’ll join us in your own way, exploring how you can engage others to help make progress on one of the pressing issues of our day.

Onward!

Ed O’Malley
president & CEO
kansas leadership center

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of The Journal, a publication of the Kansas Leadership Center. To learn more about KLC, visit http://kansasleadershipcenter.org. For a subscription to the printed edition of The Journal, visit klcjr.nl/amzsubscribe