Senator speaks in honor of Black History Month

Anne Osborne

She arrived on the Washburn University campus to build bridges and break through barriers.

Mary Groves Bland, retired state senator of Missouri, kicked off the festivities planned by the Black Law Students Association in honor of Black History month. She spent an hour last Wednesday, Feb. 1, challenging and charming students gathered at the law school.

“As I think about Black History month which we come together to celebrate, and we come together to acknowledge those who have made contributions, I say to you as Americans: What contributions have you made? We all try to look at what others have done, but I think it’s important for us to look at what we are doing.”

And she does mean Americans, making it plain her comments are not to be relegated to the African-American community alone. The thrust of her message was the unity of diversity, differing cultures learning about one another while continuing to take pride in who they are. As she views it, people need to celebrate cultural histories with the idea of moving together in the present.

“We need to stay very clear about the fact that we’re all in this together and that we must continue to try to find how we work together,” said Bland. “So when I look at Black History Month I’m a little upset, because I think that the progress of coming together has gotten wider instead of closer.”

Cultures are conditioned to be tolerant of one another when out in the open, but Bland questioned consistency. She challenged her listeners to be real, to consider how they honestly thought and felt emotionally on the subject.

Certified as a public relations community consultant and with the experience and compassion to earn it, Bland did touch briefly on national concerns. The nearly four thousand homeless children in the Kansas City region, the crime and violence of city streets, and the problems facing American seniors topped her list as tragedies society must endeavor to correct.

But Bland easily blurs any possible party lines. Her message is simple.

“Charity begins at home,” she said decisively. “And if we don’t become our neighbor’s keeper, if we don’t become sensitive to the fact that we are to take care of ourselves as a nation, then we’ll miss what is really going on now.”

And as far as Bland was concerned, that simplicity applies to ethnicities as well. Only when individuals and cultures unite while still maintaining their own identities can they strengthen their country.

Bland has no patience for those who are content to talk and not to act. Faith without works is no faith at all in her understanding.

“If you want to make a change you’ve got to step out,” she said. “You can’t stand in your corner and make a change. You’ve got to be willing to change your heart. We can’t just sit back and complain about what’s wrong. You’ve got to see where you fit in making some contribution, ever how big or ever how small it is.”