The African-American Student Union (TAASU) held its twenty-third Annual Freedom Breakfast Wed. morning at Pierson Auditorium in the Atterbury Student Success Center . 320 students, faculty members, and guests came to commemorate the contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to kick off African American History Month.
The event consisted of performances, speeches, and presentations. Attendees celebrated past civil rights progress and hoped for future progress.
The theme of this year’s function was embodied in the words of King: “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”
Keichanda Dees-Burnett, Assistant Director of Multicultural Student Affairs, Keichanda Dees-Burnett noted that the “theme was chosen to honor King, and to serve as a reminder of the participation and sacrifice made by past leaders who made possible the freedoms that would not otherwise be enjoyed today.”
Kelsey Major, sophomore, sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” She was followed by a welcome from Chancellor Leo Morton, who introduced the featured performer and singer-songwriter, Rudy Currence.
Currence played the piano and delivered optimistic lyrics as audience members clapped their hands. He also performed that evening in the Student Union.
The breakfast moved from music to acknowledging the Herman Johnson Scholarship. Created in 1987, it was the first African-American Scholarship offered at UMKC.
Meosha Smith-Russell, TAASU Culture Chair, introduced UMKC Alumnus, Weston Parham, who gave a speech about how the scholarship impacted him.
“It’s what allowed me to go to college,” Parham said. “[It] changed my life. If I hadn’t attended college, my life would have been dramatically different.”
Parham is currently pursuing his doctoral degree.
“When I look back, every interaction I had with the Herman Johnson Scholarship added something to my life, professionally and personally,” he said.
Herman and Dorothy Johnson’s daughter, Tara Johnson, spoke on behalf of her parents.
“Dad and Mom left ninety percent of everything they ever had in their lives to educating minorities,” she said. “This is a wonderful investment. I can’t think of anything better. This is a wonderful partnership, and I look forward to working with TAASU for years to come.”
Aurielle Young, President of the TAASU Executive Board, presented Johnson with a token of their gratitude for all she continues to do for UMKC.
Each year, TAASU recognizes the service, leadership, professionalism, and dedication of one faculty member by awarding the Dr. Joseph Seabrooks, Jr. Leadership Award. Seabrooks was present and took the stage.
“When I asked the board who they thought should receive this award, this was the first name that came up,” Smith-Russell said.
Erica Portley, UMKC Athletics Department Administrative Assistant, was chosen as the recipient.
“It’s an honor to receive this award,” Portley said in her acceptance speech. “I’m just grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to work with such wonderful students.”
Students were encouraged to stop by the MSA Office in room 319 of the Student Union to pick up this semester’s calendar of upcoming events. It includes functions such as the Men of Color Campus Initiative events throughout February, African American Youth Day on Mar. 8, and a conversation called “I Am Not My Hair” on Mar. 19.