Michelle Tyrene Johnson | KCUR

Michelle Tyrene Johnson

Race, Identity, & Culture Reporter

Michelle is a reporter covering race, culture and identity for KCUR and as part of Sharing America, collaborative reporting project with St. Louis, Missouri, Hartford, Connecticut, and Portland, Oregon.

As a fourth-generation Kansas City, Kansas native and resident, Michelle has been a newspaper reporter, an employment attorney, a diversity and inclusion speaker, a columnist and is a local and national playwright. She is an author of three books about diversity and one book about her grandmother.

Michelle received her degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and her law degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, but bleeds red and blue all day, every day.

 

Ways to Connect

Michelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR

Levi Harrington was lynched on April 3, 1882, in the West Bottoms of Kansas City, Missouri.

That may seem like a long time ago, but after 136 years, the aftermath of racial terror lynchings reverberates today. That's why lynchings — and Harrington — are being remembered in Kansas City with a new memorial.

Google Street View

Prairie Village City Council members debated the wisdom and scope of an LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinance and ultimately voted unanimously Monday night for a broader ordinance than it originally contemplated.

The suburban council took action where state and federal law hasn’t yet reached — barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity by the city, landlords and any business offering services to the public.

Michelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR 89.3

Art is inextricably tied to culture.

Whether it's the imagery of visual artists or the narrative themes of writers, race and culture influence the artists and the art.

Members of a two-year-old Kansas City group called the Artists of Color Alliance understand this.

Food Critics: Grits And Diners

Nov 9, 2018

Segment 1: Grits.

Whether you like them or not, grits are making a comeback on menus across the nation. Grits have been around a long time; they are a meal indigenous to North America. We talk with a local chef about the variety and versatility of grits. 

Segment 2, beginning at 13:10: Diner dining in Kansas City.

Jackson County Executive Frank White stands at a podium with the Jackson County seal on the wall behind him and to the right and an unidentified woman to the left.
KCUR 89.3 file photo

Voters who waded through a maze of questions said 'yes' to several changes to the charter for Jackson County, Missouri, though many others didn't pass.

Michelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR

Witches and vampires are classic Halloween costumes and perennial favorites, but costume shop owners say Halloween trends also reflect what's happening outside of the holiday  – such as the last Presidential election and when the Kansas City Royals won the World Series. 

So what's in this year in Kansas City?

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

A city council committee unanimously passed a measure to rename Paseo Boulevard after Martin Luther King, Jr.

At Wednesday's meeting of the planning, zoning and economic development committee, most of the eight people who spoke supported the name change.

Segment 1: Paying for period products can be difficult.

For some people, there’s a financial choice to be made when it comes to buying food, paying the bills, or purchasing pads and tampons. Some have to miss school or work because they don’t have the proper supplies. We talk about menstrual equity in the nation and in Kansas City, and what locals are doing to ensure that people have the supplies they need.

Courtesy of Open Spaces

Pop star and actress Janelle Monae is returning to her hometown this weekend to headline the October 13 concert of the Open Spaces Festival. Monae, a graduate of Schlagle High School, talks about how being from Wyandotte County influences her music and her personal and professional aesthetic.

Michelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR 89.3

Recent discussions about protecting LGBTQ residents from discrimination in Prairie Village and Mission, Kansas, recall a similar, highly controversial effort a few years ago in Roeland Park — and a quiet development in Wyandotte County earlier this year.

Segment 1: Mayor Sly James is bringing his service to a close, but not before some serious discussions.

Race and equity have been contentious issues in Kansas City for a long time. Mayor Sly James is hosting forums for residents to come together and have constructive discussions.

Michelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR 89.3

Some restaurants just have a corner on the market for a particular dish.

In this case, that would be Kitty’s Café and its pork tenderloin sandwich. The longtime Kansas City establishment is on 31st Street, just east of Martini Corner and just west of the longtime non-profit Operation Breakthrough on Troost Ave.

It's more diner than restaurant, with six stools tightly together at the counter tops. Outside, there's some patio seating, but Kitty’s is not a destination-stop kind of place. Most of the orders are take-out and you can only pay with cash.

Michelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR 89.3

 

Sam Shockley went to school with the black students who eventually desegregated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. So he was more than familiar with the harshness of racism.

When he moved to Kansas City in the 1950s, he experienced a different brand of it.

“Here it was more covert,” Shockley says.

Segment 1: Is the phrase "white people" becoming taboo?

On this episode, we explore the concept of whiteness as an identity and why some people are uncomfortable with the term.

  • Micah Kubic, author, Freedom, Inc. and Black Political Empowerment
  • Lona Davenport, program coordinator, Division of Diversity and Inclusion at UMKC

Segment 2, beginning at 33:50: How Shakespeare can help prisoners improve their social skills.

Shy Boys

Segment 1: For All The World To See exhibit at the Black Archives of Mid-America.

A nationally touring exhibit from NEH on the Road has made its way to Kansas City. "For All The World To See" displays photographs and other visuals from the civil rights era. We talked about the ways art and culture influence each other.

Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

Segment 1: New Shawnee Mission schools superintendent on his plans for the district. 

Michelle Tyrene Johnson

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes and the rate of infant mortality for black infants is almost double that of white infants. An organization in Kansas City is trying to turn those numbers around.

One out of five Americans is a woman of color. So, why are their perspectives often overlooked, even in conversations about race and gender? KCUR's Michelle Tyrene Johnson hosts an unfiltered, wide-ranging discussion about life in Kansas City for women of color.

Guests:

Segment 1: What does diversity in the workplace look like today?

When people talk about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, it's usually from the standpoint of the employer. But what about the employee perspective? And for local professionals of color, how does it translate to the day-to-day realities of going to work?

Segment 1: A look at Childish Gambino's latest music video.

 The single 'This is America' by Childish Gambino has inspired plenty of conversations on race, identity and culture. We take a closer look at the meaning behind both the song and video. 

  • Glenn North, poet
  • David Muhammad, rapper and teacher, Shawnee Mission East

Segment 2, beginning at 22:38: The dangers of profiling of proxy.

Stilwell, Kansas, is an unlikely place to find a Muslim Quran reciter who has over a million followers each on both Instagram and Facebook.

But for now, that's where you can find Fatih Seferagic.

When Seferagic was just four years old, his family fled war-torn Bosnia. He eventually ended up in Houston, Texas, when he was 14 years old and that’s when he gained a following after putting his Quran recitations up on YouTube.

Courtesy of Hallmark Cards

Elle McKinney has seen the Black Panther movie nine times and taken all seven of her nephews — in shifts — to see the mega-hit since it came out in February.

So, lucky for McKinney, who is black, that her job as a greeting card writer at Hallmark Cards allowed her to be a writer on the creative team for the launch of Black Panther cards.

Michelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR 89.3

This spring marks 25 years since 23rd Street in the Westside neighborhood of Kansas City, Missouri, was named after civil rights leader Cesar Chavez.

The efforts the community went through echo the current attempt by a coalition of black leaders to rename Paseo Boulevard after Martin Luther King Jr.

Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

On April 9, 1968, five days after the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., civil unrest in response to long-standing racial tension broke out in Kansas City. But what really happened 50 years ago? Last week, KCUR hosted the panel "Reaction or Riot?: Understanding 1968 in Kansas City" for community members to share their own experiences and recollections. Today, we revisited that conversation about the ways our city has — and hasn't — changed in the last half century.

Michelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR 89.3

The next U.S. census will happen in 2020, and it promises to reveal shifting demographics and changing communities. One neighborhood to watch is Strawberry Hill, a vibrant Kansas City, Kansas community that has long been home to immigrants from around the globe. 

Bigstock

When many black diners go out to eat, it’s not uncommon for them to question if race plays a part in the service they receive.

Turns out, that’s not paranoia.

Zach Brewster is an assistant professor of sociology at Wayne State University in Michigan. He has conducted several national research studies on the experience of dining and restaurant discrimination. In his 2015 survey of approximately 1,000 waiters and waitresses across the country, 53 percent of the participants admitted to not giving black diners their best service.

Michelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR 89.3

Buzzing outside Flarsheim Hall on the grounds of the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus Friday morning sounded like a scourge of mosquitoes.

The drone demonstration outside the School of Computing and Engineering was intended to help university leaders announce that the Department of Defense’s Office of Naval Research had awarded the university a $7.2 million grant and a $7.7 million contract to develop countermeasures to drone threats.

The funding is the largest federal amount received by UMKC for non-health related research.

Walt Disney Studios

The latest Marvel comic film makes way for fresh conversations on race, leadership and heroism.

The superhero thriller, Black Panther, easily topped the box office in its first week receiving attention and applause for its use of a nearly all-black cast and production team. On this Screentime, we take a closer look and explore what the movie says about society's evolving perspectives on race and culture.

Micelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR 89.3

For decades, the Wonder Hostess Thrift Shop Bakery was an institution at 30th and Troost in Midtown Kansas City. People in the neighborhood remember it from as far back as the 1970s, when it was a quick and cheap place to stop by for day-old bread and discounted baked goods.

It closed about six years ago, and a new player has taken over in that location. People can still buy food there, but it’s a far cry from the processed HoHos and Zingers they used to get from Hostess.