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Kansas City Friends Of Alvin Ailey Hosts A Day Of Dialogue About Race, Place And Diversity

Julie Denesha
Tyrone Aiken (center), executive director of Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, with dancers from AileyCamp The Group at this summer's Festival on the Vine.

More than 200 people are expected Wednesday at the Gem Theater at 18th and Vine for a daylong community conversation about race.

Though the Fall Symposium: Race, Place & Diversity hosted by the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey might feel like a response to this week’s events at the University of Missouri in Columbia, the organization hosted a similar symposium a year ago and is committed to doing so for the next five years, says the organization’s executive director, Tyrone Aiken.

"It's part of our mission," Aiken says. "Diversity is written into our mission. We are committed to that as much as we are to presenting the Ailey (dance) companies and youth development through arts education."

From noon to 5 p.m., panel and group discussions include notable artists such as playwright Nathan Louis Jackson, musicians Bobby Watson and Ronnie McFadden, and artist and curator Sonie Joi Thompson-Ruffin, along with journalists Shawn Edwards and Dave Helling and Jeffery Mittman of the ACLU.

Afternoon panels are followed by a town hall meeting from 7-9 p.m. Topics of conversation will go beyond the arts, Aiken says.

"Housing, transportation, education, jobs, you name it – we should be having a conversation about why race matters, why diversity matters, why place matters, because it allows us to develop a deeper understanding with each other in our community across racial and ethnic lines," Aiken says, "which is something we need, especially when something challenging flares up like it did this week in Columbia."

A hundred people have registered for the afternoon events, and 200 people have tickets to the town hall, Aiken says. (Registration information is available at www.kcfaa.org.)

Aiken has high hopes for the day.

"I’m really wishing people can take off one of their masks and share how they’re feeling about where they’re at and who they are in this time and place," he says, "so that hopefully next year we’re in a slightly different place and have moved forward."

A free press is among our country’s founding principles and most precious resources. As director of content-journalism at KCUR, I want everyone in our part of America to know we see them and we’re listening. I work to make sure the stories we tell and the conversations we convene reflect our complex realities, informing and inspiring all of us to meet the profound challenges of our time. Email me at cj@kcur.org.
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