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Season 1, Episode 3: Kansas City, Missouri: Black and Latinx Solidarity for Justice



Host: Justice Gatson Local Audio Producer: Cynthia Fails

Host: Justice Gatson
Local Audio Producer: Cynthia Fails

In this episode, local audio producer Cynthia Fails interviews Ave Stokes about a year-long process to bring Black and Latinx communities together to heal historic divides and build collective power. Stokes describes why this work is critical for the racial justice and health equity movement in Kansas City, MO, and what they are learning from the process. Stokes also shares his reflections on funding disparities faced by Black and Latinx led organizations and the challenges these disparities pose to building grassroots power.

The second segment, hosted by Justice Gatson of Reale Justice Network, continues the conversation, further examining the year-long process of bridge-building between Black and Latinx communities in Missouri. We hear from Victor Morales of Kansas/Missouri Dream Alliance, Mo Del Villar of ACLU of Missouri, Edgar Palacios of Latinx Education Collaborative, Ave Stokes of Alive & Well Communities, and Hakima Tafunzi Payne of the Uzazi Village. This episode is hosted by Justice Gatson, a Kansas City based organizer, who organizes intersectional movements that uplift the voices of the most marginalized groups.

This podcast acts as a final grant report for Convergence Partnership’s 2020 COVID response grants. The Convergence Partnership is a collaborative of local statewide and national funders to advance racial justice and health equity. The Convergence Partnership podcast series introduces you to people and organizations who are building social, political, and economic power.

Justice Gatson: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Convergence Partnership podcast. Today, our partner foundations and grantees will share their stories on how they are working to improve community health and promote racial justice. Convergence Partnership is a collaborative of local statewide and national funders working to transform policy, practices and systems to advance racial justice and health equity. This podcast introduces you to people and organizations who are building social, political and economic power to advance racial justice and health equity. The series acts as a final report for our most recent grantee cohort.

Ave Stokes: A lot of times, I think we can get caught up in fighting over a piece of the pie. We can say, hey, we all deserve a equal opportunity, to be at this table and even [00:01:00] more so than that, shaping it in a way that meets our needs.

Ave Stokes: This happened during a global pandemic, it was important to understand that our communities, they were hungry for interaction and they were hungry for relationship building.

Justice Gatson: From the Gulf Coast to Chicago, to the San Joaquin Valley, to Buffalo and places in between, we are learning how our network is amplifying community power, transforming narratives, and building funder capacity to create a, just an inclusive society where all people, especially those most impacted by structural racism are empowered to shape the policies and systems that impact their lives our healthy and can thrive. I’m your host Justice Gatson. Today we’re meeting with Alive and Well grantee of the Health Forward Foundation. To start off, we’ll hear from a local audio [00:02:00] producer in Kansas City to learn more about the critical work Alive and Well is doing in Missouri.

Cynthia Fails: Ave,, thanks so much for joining me on this beautiful, beautiful day in the park.

Ave Stokes: Yeah. Thanks for, uh, thanks for having me. Uh, it’s beautiful. Sunshine and birds are chirping.

Cynthia Fails: Yeah, we get to hear a little bit about all of that in the background today. Little ambient noise. We’ll call it. Um, so you’re here today to talk to me a little bit about, uh, the work that you all have been able to accomplish through this partnership. Is that right?

Ave Stokes: Yeah. So, uh, you know, it was Uzazi Village, Reale Justice Network, Alive and Well, and the Latinx Education Collaborative. We were really able [00:03:00] over about a year’s time to, uh, really able to bring together Black and Latinx community, uh, around real, real solidarity. So when we look at issues that exist, between, uh, Black and Latinx communities, a lot of times you see a lot of similarities, as far as, uh, looking at things like systemic racism, um, looking at things like, you know, the policy and legislative engagement processes. We think about making real systemic change. Our goal was to really bring more awareness, uh, and not just awareness, but a tool to engage in a policy and legislative advocacy, uh, process for Black and Latinx .

Cynthia Fails: That’s fantastic and much needed in this day and age, especially.

Ave Stokes: I would say one of the greatest impact was that we were actually able to take a group, um, really go through oral and written testimony in that process and they were actually able to, uh, give [00:04:00] oral and written testimonies, uh, before their state representatives. So it was really cool to watch a group of individuals who, uh, didn’t really have a lot of knowledge around their process you know, uh, go in and actually, uh, participate and also advocate for what they felt was important.

Cynthia Fails: In thinking about sharing this story about the work that you all have done together with others, what do you think is the most valuable piece of information that others need to know?

Ave Stokes: You know, for those who may be in other cities, other towns, other states, one of the key things that we initially set out to do was really. address a discord between Black and Latinx communities. So we actually have Facebook live where we had open and honest conversations around really how Black and Latinx communities can sometimes work against each other, but, uh, how do we have those conversations, those hard [00:05:00] conversations that look at ways, um, how we can actually work with each other. Um, because again, we’re stronger. Uh, when we move forward together, You know, I, I think, um, I would say this, this is, uh, nothing that, uh, hasn’t existed over time. You know, one of our, uh, we had a Facebook live on, um, identity, um, and our final Facebook live. We have three of them, by the way, I find them on the third one was the, uh, Facebook live where recovered solidarity and, uh, Dr. Jean Chavez actually covered some of the work that he did, early seventies, uh, with some Black and Latinx movements and solidarity movements that existed even then. So I think it’s, it’s really picking up on that legacy and move, continuing to move the ball forward.

Cynthia Fails: I love that. If someone were interested in replicating this either here in the Kansas city area or somewhere else, what would you recommend they do to get started?[00:06:00]

Ave Stokes: Start with the residents? Uh, the first two things we did was we spoke with Black and Latinx, residents. And when we say residents really everyday people and not the who’s who’s and this community leader in that community leader, but how do we actually, uh, get people out of our community? Uh, that, that, um, maybe typically don’t engage in any type of, uh, whether it’s a policy and legislative process or, you know, because of the day-to-day circumstances of living in disinvested communities, which was our focus was looking at disinvested communities. You know, you often don’t have time for that, but the need is so paramount. And I think it’s up to those of us who have the space. Think about ways, whether it’s creative or just practical ways to do that. I think it’s our responsibility to work with individuals in the community to figure out how we meet that need. So that’s the first, the very first step that I would say, uh, to take. And we, we did meet with, uh, Black and [00:07:00] Latinx, led and focused, organizations. Because again, they our organizations those who are, you know, leading certain efforts in the community, that’s just as important. It’s going to take all of us if we’re really gonna see the change that we want to make. But, uh, obviously starting with the residents is really where I think the key focus should be.

Cynthia Fails: What would you say is the greatest area of need for the organizations as they start to do this type of work?

Ave Stokes: You know, that’s a tough one because organizations themselves are just as disinvested underserved. Um, you know, I was looking at a national stat and Black and Latinx organizations. Something along the lines of 96% of them are led by no more than one or two people.. So, you know, we think about, you know, even, even capacity. Um, that’s one thing that we have to think about with our organizations is how do we [00:08:00] build capacity? But, you know, I, I honestly think, uh, the way to do that is tapping in more to those residents, people who there’s a, there’s a lot of people out there that who have that who have not been engaged. And so again, thinking of creative ways to, to tap into that, um, and not just tap into that, but harness their, uh, leadership and harness their, uh, desires to make a change. You know, a lot of times we’re able to build capacity through that.

Cynthia Fails: Okay. The importance of, um, building capacity within the organization. So that they can continue to serve residents is crucial. Right? Um, how as a community, do we ensure that organizations who are doing the work that is so important and so crucial to our communities getting healthier? How do we continue to ensure that [00:09:00] they are, um, receiving the best opportunity to do the work?

Ave Stokes: I mean funding. Uh, and I I will straight out say funding.. I think oftentimes we can run from that one, uh, but funding, funding, funding, and I’ll give you a stat that I read. Uh, and, uh, it’s talking about whiteled organizations, even when they’re focused and even when their efforts are focused in Black and Latinxcommunities have a 76% more unrestricted net assets then Black and Latino led organizations. So that means. Uh, if a, uh, white led organization says, hey, you know, we see this issue in Black and Latinxcommunities. And then if a Black or Latinx person goes in and say, hey, I see this issue in my community. A white led organizations, uh, would receive 76% more, uh, unrestricted net asset funding. [00:10:00] And so those are things. I mean on a practical level. That’s not even that’s illogical. Right. Um, you know what? I could go on that one all day. I stopped right there.

Cynthia Fails: We’re talking about systemic barriers that will, will prevent us from doing the work, right? Yeah. Okay. Um, how do you work against those barriers?

Ave Stokes: You know, I hate to sound cliche or vague, but the, the word I keep thinking about is together. It’s, it’s, it’s tapping into that neighbor. Tapping into that person who has a vision that’s aligned with yours efforts that are aligned with yours and looking at it as a, an all of us thing. And again, that’s why the key focus of what we were doing with solidarity. That’s how we do it. When we talk about movement building and, uh, bringing people together that that’s how we do it.

Cynthia Fails: I think that’s a good note to end on, right there. Yeah, thanks for joining [00:11:00] me for this Ave.

Justice Gatson: That was local audio producer, Cynthia Fails ,telling us about Alive and Well and their critical work in Missouri. In our next segment, Alive and Well, and its partners reflect on the work they have done with support from the Health Forward Foundation and the Convergence Partnership.

Justice Gatson: Hi, my name is Justice Gatson. I’m a social justice doula in Kansas city and founder of Real Justice Network. Real Justice Network is an organization that primarily serves Black and Indigenous survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and those facing all types of social injustice. We are here today to talk about the work we have done to [00:12:00] address racial and health disparities. Alive and Well is a grantee of Health Forward through a Convergence Partnership initiative. Who else is with us today?

Victor Morales: Hey, y’all my name is Victor. My pronouns are he ,him his, my full-time job, I’m an operations manager for a backbone organization that serves as the house for coordinated voter engagement. And it’s based where grassroots organizations can come together tofind and share statewide infrastrucutre .

Mo Del Villar : Hello, my name is Mo Del Villar I am the legislative associate for the ACLU of Missouri.

Ave Stokes: Hello, my name is Ave Stokes, I’m with Alive and Well, uh, communities, uh, Kansas city region, uh, we’re cross state organization, and focused on instilling trauma-informed principles and practices throughout our communities, institutions and organizations .Leading with a lens of equity.

Edgar Palacios: My name is Edgar Palacios . I am the founder of the Latinx Education Collaborative, and [00:13:00] we are working on increasing the representation of Latinx educators in K-12.

Hakima Tafunzi Payne: Hi, my name is Hakima Tafunzi Payne. I’m the founder and CEO of Uzazi Village, in Kansas City, Missouri. Our mission is centering Black and Brown families and maternal and infant health and our vision is for every family, a healthy baby for every baby, a healthy village.

Justice Gatson: All right, let’s start off by discussing solidarity, so when we talk about solidarity, I mean, we’re working at our local level, but with much inspiration from national movements that have been taking place. So just for example, movement for Black Lives and United We Dream under the frontline banner. We’re Working Family Parties, um, putting forth defund police or the, um, Green New Deal that will make it so that we actually [00:14:00] pay attention to climate in our country and create new jobs because this is stuff we can do. And so that solidarity is happening, uh, across the country and local communities are figuring out how do we do this, right? How do we do this at home? And that’s what we’re doing in Kansas City, figuring out how we do this so that it is sustainable.

Ave Stokes: One thing that I could just kind of sum that up. As I said, previously, we addressed, um, you know, colonization as well as a historic and present day racism that exists in our communities, uh, particularly against Black and Latinx communities. A lot of times I think we can get caught up in, uh, fighting over a piece of the pie. That one piece versus saying, hey, we should all have an equal share of this pie. We can say, hey, we all deserve a equal opportunity, uh, to be at this table. And even more so than that, shaping it in a way that meets our needs and that we feel is best for us.

Mo Del Villar : [00:15:00] And I think I’m also part of that when we’re talking about empowering Black and Latinx voices in policy, that’s a place where our voices have not been heard. Uh, that’s a space where we’ve been missing, but I will say more of the truth of that is this a space where we’ve been excluded from, by kind of like the various policies, uh, you know, taking away options for people to engage with lawmakers who are, you know, making laws for our state, but it’s a really, you know, drive the piece home for solidarity and empowering. We couldn’t talk about solidarity without talking about anti-Blackness and without talking about those wedges that are placed purposely so that we fuss, fight argue or whatever, and not really realize [00:16:00] that, hey, we’re in the same boat here.

Justice Gatson: So one of the things that I do want to ask about solidarity, you know, what, what does solidarity mean to you

Mo Del Villar : Solidarity between the particular communities we’re talking about now, Black and Brown communities, um, I think requires some recognition of the harms that have been done to, and between and through our communities. Recognizing, and being able to speak in truth and beyond that, um, with one another is I think, necessary, um, and moving forward in this process together.

Victor Morales: I think that for me, if things come to mind, when I think about solidarity. The first thing that I think about is power, money, power, and then people power. Most of us, I would assume that don’t have the money power. Um, and that’s where people with special interests are able to define what our communities, um, deserve. And yet, like, [00:17:00] that’s what we we’re put against one another. And if, um, and then there’s like that people power bucket, where I think about, you know, the alternative where we come together as people with the acknowledgement that our liberation is tied between one another. I think about the Brown Berets, the Black Panther movement. I think about the Rainbow coalition movements that have been ignited in the past where Black and Brown or Black and Latinx folks have been able to work together and actually like do some meaningful work that is rounded in liberation. In solidarity, it’s also a healing and the promise.

Justice Gatson: You know, I’d like to hear any stories that anyone has to share about how we can really highlight this.

Ave Stokes: You know, I think, um, and I’ll give this in my own personal opinion, you know, this particular opportunity think it was a 10 month grant or something like that. [00:18:00] And so I think a lot of times, particularly, in Black and Brown communities, there’s a lot of pressure put on us to have these phenomenal outcomes, you know, in a 10 month period. Um, you know, one thing I will say about this though, is. You know, the people who supported this, they were very flexible, but also, you know, something I even learned from this group, uh, was, you know, even giving ourselves grace and opportunity to continue to grow and realize that this is a stepping stone, you know, I remember it was one morning. I think I was talking to Mama Hakima and Justice here. I can’t remember who it was that said it, but it changed my whole day. I think, uh, I want to say it was Mama Hakima said, we didn’t cause the problem, so, you know, don’t carry all of it that weight on yourself to feel like it needs to be solved. I would say from the time we started last summer, uh, up until now, one thing we saw was this gradual growth, you know, like the [00:19:00] first meeting, you know, we may have 10 organizations where people represented, whereas by the time we, you know, get to those final steps and we’re actually getting to those pieces around the trainings and, you know, giving those public testimonies. Equipping people with knowledge and tools to advocate for themselves. You know, we had, we had grown quite significantly and you know, our participation, uh, justice even started some meetings that we began called the Kansas City People’s Agenda. You know, we were having those, you know, in the, uh, evenings at night. You know, and, and oftentimes particularly during COVID, there’s a lot going on with our community. So it’s hard to get people to commit to so many different things, but, you know, to see again, to turn out that we would have, you know, as we went throughout this process, I would say, that’s the story.

Justice Gatson: Thank you so much for that. Ave, is there any other story that people are thinking [00:20:00] about that came out of this?

Hakima Tafunzi Payne: Uh, the part of our work that was most important to me was meeting with the Mayor. Uh, we have the opportunity to speak with our Mayor about participatory budgeting and the Mayor wanted and needed more information and education about that, that we had an opportunity to provide just the opportunity to have that kind of audience and that kind of influence was really important to me. And the work that this group is doing together.

Justice Gatson: Thank you for me in particularly seeing the process, thinking about where we were when, um, it was just a phone call that Ave was having with me about, hey, Justice what do you think about this? And then, you know, coming together, Edgar, Hakima, and than bringing in community folks, you know, having some [00:21:00] events online, but also I think this process allowed people to actually see that, you know what, you don’t have to invite me to your table. We can create our own table and that’s what we’re doing. Uh, we all have something to contribute to this and that’s the way I see it now more than ever before is that we have the power to build this, to do this and to carry it out. And we. We proved it.

Mo Del Villar : To back what Justice was saying about, um, you know, would, you might not be inviting us to the table, but we will speak and you will have to hear us. Um, the person that went to testify, um, in the state house was a former Kansas city police officer who was a woman and a Latina. So, um, as someone who was in the capital half of the year. Um, her voice is not one that is typically in the room when we are sitting around with all of the police organizations and [00:22:00] sheriff’s organizations and a variety of advocacy groups. To me, it was incredible to have that voice in the room because I do this work so often. And it’s just very difficult, even as a woman, just to get things across the line for things that, uh, you would think are easy. Uh, But our more difficult when there are fewer voices they’re standing up for those issues.

Justice Gatson: Yeah, so let’s talk about that. Like, do people feel like there was resistance to, um, doing this work, how this came across in the community, talking about solidarity and trying to, uh, build power.

Edgar Palacios: This is Edgar, I’d like to jump in. I think it’s also important to note that this happened during a global pandemic. And I think it was important to understand that our communities, they were hungry for interaction and they were hungry for, for relationship building. Right. And so I think something that was proven to me throughout this entire process was that, um, if you [00:23:00] invite folks that will come, so I didn’t necessarily feel any resistance as much as, um, I got the feedback after the fact that they wanted it to be included,involved, moving forward.

Mo Del Villar : I would say, as far as the conversations went in the, um, previous sessions that we had together, it may have began with a sense of hesitation, but as soon as we were able to sort of be open and honest about where we were coming from and where we were trying to go, there was a bit of a relief to be able to have truthful conversations with each other obviously with respect bringing our true lived experiences to the table and saying, well, this is what I’ve seen. This is what I’ve been through. Um, understanding that we may have gone through something similar. So how can we use this to build forward together? Um, and that way I think the transition of that conversation throughout our couple of sessions was it was pretty great in my eyes.

Justice Gatson: I want to, you know, just point out something I noticed, I noticed the multi-generation [00:24:00] that participated. We had people who’ve been doing organizing for a while. Tenured college professors. We had young people, we had community health workers are people who are in getting their community health worker cert. And so it was a wide range of people. We had, you know, a few teenagers on as well. Save you know, the messiness that organizing is sometimes I think that things went over beautifully. What would you all say are some lessons that you learned while engaging in this process to build power?

Victor Morales: Yeah. Um, there’s that hunger from people in the community wanting to get in. And yet the side of that infrastructure is still being built and that’s what we’re, that’s what we’re coming together. Um, and more than ever, in my opinion, it feels like people are hungry to really get involved, [00:25:00] to make, um, social change. Um, as Justice has mentioned, like there are people from all sorts of different backgrounds, like really coming together. Sometimes it feels that there is a lack of, um investment in the movement, um, where sometimes some folks will come in and then like, um, for one cycle or two and then leave, which then, you know, we have to rebuild stuff together, back up again. And, um, I think this is a time

Hakima Tafunzi Payne: I would agree with that. I think this project showed what is possible that we can amplify our voices. And I just looked at what more can be accomplished in the future. When we work together, it just makes me want to keep going.

Mo Del Villar : The largest lesson for me in this process has been, if you educate people on what’s going on, they will become engaged because they care about what’s happening. They often just don’t [00:26:00] know. And that is purposeful at times in the ways that, um, lawmakers and, and, uh, elected officials may obfuscate the truth, um, for their own benefit, but also, um, you know, an access to legislative language or in just understanding the process of what’s happening. So, um, the ability to educate people and things that matter so that they can use that information moving forward at any level of government is a lesson I’m continuing to learn and, and love learning, um, offshoots of how to improve that impact and continue to grow. Um, in this community and in this space.

Ave Stokes: Yeah, I think a lesson learned was, um, you know, that we have to be, uh, more patient than ever, uh, Edgar brought up a minute ago. Um, how things have changed somewhat with COVID-19. And so, you know, what may have taken a month or two now takes, you know, it could take up to four or five months. [00:27:00] And, you know, the realization that changed now, doesn’t look like change. looked, you know, two years ago. Also, I think it’s a huge validation to the institutional partners, as well as ourselves, as Black and Brown communities and Black and Latinx communities that when our communities are allowed unrestricted autonomy to find our own solutions, we do that. So I think for me, and hopefully for others, there was some validation in that with this, um, not to say that we’ve, we’ve solved the problem, but again, we’re working towards solving a problem.

Justice Gatson: Thank you for that so much. Um, if I were to add just a little bit here on lessons that I’ve learned, um, this is like in particular for um, funders who are looking to have an impact in communities. No one [00:28:00] knows the communities like the people who are working directly in them, and like that people who are impacted by the issue. What I’m really trying to highlight is that we have the solutions and what we don’t have our communities have. We never really get the full resources that we need. To carry these things out. And so if there are failures, they are failures, um, because we’re not fully funded in the way that we need to be. And so we are oftentimes working with very little to try to have the kinds of impact that we really need to make changes in our community. I am going to encourage funders to really think outside the box, to, you know, start to do things differently. The community is demandingthat. That’s the only way that we’re going to [00:29:00] really have changed here and that they may not all have a 501(c)3 and look real, pretty like you want it to be, but they might be boots on the ground and the community.

Justice Gatson: Now I want to end the conversation with a call to action. Our call to action is to have everyone check out the Kansas City People’s Agenda. The Kansas City’s People’s Agenda was created by us as a way to engage with our community as a way to engage in policymaking and having an impact on our budget. If you’re interested in working with us and joining our group, please look for us on Facebook.

Edgar Palacios: I have two calls to action. The first being, um, rooted in that we actually have to do our internal work as well. Um, in order to show up in community to show up in solidarity, we have to understand how we play a part in these systems and how we can improve our own work as individuals. And my [00:30:00] second call to action is to check out the KC People’s Agenda

Mo Del Villar : My first call is similar to Edgar, be get involved in what is happening around you. Care about your school board, your local municipal elections, your statewide representatives. Everything is so much more important than what is just happening at the federal level. And my second call to action would be to check on the KC People’s Agenda.

Ave Stokes: First call to action. Be patient with ourselves. We’ll get there. Second call to action to check out the Kansas City People’s Agenda.

Justice Gatson: In addition to that, if you’re interested in learning more about all of the organizations that took part in this project, please find them on Facebook and on their web pages. Look up Reale Justice Network. Was as the Uzazi Village, Latinx Education Collaborative and of course, Alive and Well communities. Thanks everybody for listening in. It’s been a wonderful [00:31:00] conversation.

Justice Gatson: You’ve been listening to the Convergence Partnership podcast, where we hear stories from both our funders and grantees across the country who are working to create racial justice and health equity broadcasting from the Gulf Coast to Chicago, to the San Joaquin Valley. To Buffalo and places in between learning how our network is amplifying community power, transforming narratives and building funder capacity.

Justice Gatson: To learn more about the Convergence Partnership. Visit us at That is Stay tuned as we continue telling the [00:32:00] stories of our work