March 2, 2019

As the mayor of the City of Lee’s Summit I was alarmed to read an article about our city with the headline “Witch hunt? Lynch mob? How a fight for equal education fractured this KC suburb.” Due to the negative references to our city and citizens I am compelled to offer additional relevant information.

Our community has a long history of coming together to talk about our schools. We have done so because we care and love of our students, teachers, and school district. As a member of our school board a few years ago, we advocated for more diversity of teachers, equity for our students and schools, and more transparent community conversations. Incidents of harassment, prejudice, and cultural bias did occur within our schools at every level, and we strongly addressed them with our administration. Two years ago our board hired Dr. Dennis Carpenter, the first black superintendent of the LSR7 School District. I moved on from the board before Dr. Carpenter began his tenure. However, as Mayor I’ve supported the discussions of equity and prioritization of the achievement gap in our schools.

In the last year, outside of the divisive language on social media, our parents, citizens, teachers, students, and school board members have had hundreds of productive and civil face to face meetings and courageous conversations about equity, equality, the achievement gap, race relations, and poverty. These are difficult conversations and often uncomfortable, but our strong sense of community guided us in these conversations. A majority of our citizens understand the concepts of white privilege, male privilege, income privilege, and many other privileges we may have been born with or in some cases worked hard to achieve (e.g. income). Sadly, based on the article, it appears those outside our city are not acknowledging and praising us for all the difficult and brave discussions by our citizens, our administration, and school board which culminated in the School Board’s unanimously approved equity plan that includes a diverse school curriculum and recruiting and promoting a more diverse workforce.

The writer of the article described our engaged city as fractured, alluded to a small percentage of people in the community who have never engaged face to face in the community conversations, and used coded language such as “lynch mob” to create imagery of hate and bigotry. The article also gave considerable coverage to an author and consultant who was not given a contract to do training in our schools. The consultant abandoned his own values as he mocked and stereotyped our entire community as “too fragile” and too “white privileged” to talk about issues of equity and diversity. If this is the type of person he is or this is the derogatory approach he uses in training, he made it painfully obvious as to why he and his methodology are not welcome or acceptable in our schools.

Our citizens may not all be in agreement about issues of equity, race, and diversity training, but unlike many cities in this nation we are moving forward “together.”

We cannot let others divide us by mocking us and using coded language to show contempt for our entire city which is comprised of our families, friends, neighbors, teachers, parents, and children. We cannot let their bitterness into our hearts. It is our spirit of community that is moving us forward to create the culture needed to recognize and address the injustices of harassment, prejudice, and cultural bias.

In my first year as mayor, I have experienced bitterness and hateful words from a small percentage of citizens just as our superintendent has.

However, Dr. Carpenter’s experiences have been far more threatening, harsh and constant than mine. Some or much of the leniency I have been afforded could very well be attributed to my white privilege. I acknowledge this, but the only way I know how to move forward in the healthiest way for our community is the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr way. Dr. King said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

We determine our own culture and destiny with the love we show for each other. The effort to make equity a priority in our schools has been a success.

It is time for love and grace to direct our actions from this point forward. For the betterment of Lee’s Summit, I ask our school board members, superintendent, and citizens to give grace to others and each other and keep moving forward. This is how we will get back to talking about the other priorities, critical decisions, and opportunities we have before us. This is how we will remain one of the top places to live in the nation which has been one of our many accolades over the last decade.

Bill Baird
City of Lee’s Summit