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2007 BTS - Lets Rewrite the Story

By MARK WIEBE

The Kansas City Star  (November 3rd, 2007)

Richard Mabion, a businessman and community organizer, has a challenge for urban minorities like him: Volunteer for two progressive organizations and stick with them for a year.


Mabion will make that challenge during a conference he spearheaded to encourage minority participation in progressive causes. Many of those causes have an environmental focus — such as learning how to get off the power grid and purchasing locally grown organic foods.


Called “Break the Silence,” the conference will be today and Saturday at the Reardon Convention Center in downtown Kansas City, Kan.  Mabion hopes to learn why some urban minorities tend to shy from embracing causes, such as environmentalism, that he thinks would benefit them.  “We want to give them a chance to find something that will interest them,” Mabion said. “Before we can determine why people of color aren’t participating in these groups, we need to have people of color participating in them to see.”


Mabion—whose business interests have taken him into insurance, janitorial services and art dealing—attended a conference in March that illustrated how small that participation is.  The conference, in Columbus, Ohio, featured author David C. Korten, who spoke of building grassroots support for various progressive issues.


It was a good event, Mabion recalled, but he was one of only two African-Americans among about 200 other attendees.  "When you go into the room and you’re the only person like you there, it affects your comfort level,” Mabion said. “The kind of activities that go on, along with the kind of conversations, are invariably white.”


From that moment, Mabion resolved to bring more urban minorities into a conversation that many white middle-class Americans are having about progressive issues.  Specifically, he wanted to extend the reach of the green movement into communities such as his own northeast Kansas City, Kan.  The result is this weekend’s conference, which will feature organizations such as the Greens of Greater Kansas City and All Souls Unitarian Church.


Korten, author of The Great Turning, will deliver the keynote address at 9 a.m. Saturday.  About 130 people have registered.  Even before organizing the conference, Mabion has been spreading the word about farmers’ markets, food circles, alternative energy sources and organic farming and gardening.  He helped organize a farmers’ market on Quindaro Boulevard earlier this year. He’s trying to persuade a friend, the owner of Wilson’s Pizza & Grill on Quindaro Boulevard, to put up solar panels.


“I’d love to give it a try,” said Wilson, who was involved in the farmers’ market. And last year, Mabion urged a black organic farmer to become more involved in a food circle in which he belongs.  “The food circle people are not used to dealing with people of color,” Mabion said. “They’re used to servicing them. … But as far as being peers, going out and having a cup of coffee together or a beer or inviting over to your house, that doesn’t happen.”  The conference, Mabion hopes, will lay the foundation for creating those bonds.


The conference

  • “Break the Silence” focuses on encouraging minority participation in progressive issues. It will be from 5 to 11 p.m. today and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Reardon Convention Center, 500 Minnesota Ave., Kansas City, Kan.
  • Admission is $1 at the door. For more information, call 913-342-6379.
  • The event is sponsored by Building a Sustainable Earth Community Coalition, the J. Gordon Community Development Corporation, The Martinez Law Firm, 90.1 FM KKFI, the Kansas African American Affairs Commission and the Kansas Hispanic and Latino Affairs Commission.

Click to see 2007 poster