I imagine that people who have never visited Kansas might have a narrow view of who we are. When you say “Kansas,” some people probably envision cowboys, cattle, and fields of crops as far as the eye can see. If we are honest, in some parts of Kansas, that image is pretty accurate. But there is much more to being a “Kansan” then those images convey.
I am a Kansan, one who grew up in a small town whose economy was dependent on small businesses and farming. For the better part of two decades, I have called Kansas City, Kansas home. What I have come to realize over those years is that small-town Kansas and urban Kansas City have more similarities than differences. Both are communities built on rich traditions, with a deep sense of place and belonging, and with a shared value of collective responsibility for the quality of life of all citizens. What is different is that KCK is an international community, with an incredible diversity of cultures, where we welcome increasing numbers of families from around the world who desire to raise their families, find meaningful employment, and pursue the American dream.
What I value most about KCK is that we view our diversity as a gift. We embrace a diversity that goes beyond background and heritage, and includes thinking and ideas. In our schools, we lift up and value that diversity, as students come together in our classrooms to learn and grow. We lift up the world languages (nearly 70) spoken in the homes of our students. We lift up the collective value that with hard work, everyone can rise to their potential, rise above obstacles, and rise to reach their dreams.
Our approach to achieving the American dream is simple really. Just like any community, we have our challenges, ones that we work tirelessly to overcome each and every day. But we have learned that our competing values are not a Hobson’s Choice, best described by Henry Ford’s statement about the Model-T: “Any customer can have a car in any color as long as it is black.” In my community, you can truly have, or be, any “color” you want. It’s not a take it or leave it proposition. It’s about realizing that the quality of life we want requires an inclusive frame of mind, and believing that we are at our best when we can recognize and celebrate our diversity. I pray that, across this beautiful country of ours, we find ways to lift up and celebrate those same values of diversity and inclusiveness. “It’s Up to Us.”