COLUMBIA, 12/31/11 (Op-Ed) -- Welcome to one of the hardest top ten lists anyone in Columbia might ever devise.
The hardest part about any list is normally finding enough people to populate it. But just the opposite made this list a tough task: Between Mizzou, City Hall, Columbia Public Schools, the business community, and the community at large, Columbia is blessed with a team of Black leaders that is as wide as it is deep. To narrow the list from nearly thirty people, we had to apply certain criteria, and then ask community members who best fit them.
First and foremost, we asked: Is this person actively engaged on multiple fronts to help and lead the Black community?
Next, we wanted to know: Does he or she organize community efforts? Move between venues to accomplish specific goals? Write publicly or show up at public meetings to take a stand? Is this person respected in the community at large: Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, young, old, male, female, and so on? Does he or she exhibit passionate engagement with a vision for the betterment of all?
Still, that description fits countless Black leaders here.
But people answered these questions, and our top ten list slowly emerged with a few common characteristics, notably independence and entrepreneurialism, a tradition that also dates way back in Columbia's black business community. Most leaders on our list founded or created the enterprises they lead. Most aren't strongly associated with any large institutions or organizations. And yet, most have strong name recognition.
They are all fighters for a cause, some more controversially than others.
Columbia's Black leaders also represent a clear generational continuum
, from the early days of Civil Rights to contemporary America, where the first Black President now presides. To a person, however, they would all likely tell you: there is much work still to be done
And now, without further ado, the Columbia Heart Beat presents:
Columbia's Top Ten Black Leaders
(in no particular order)
a) Almeta Crayton.
Probably the most visible and well-known leader on this list, "Almeta Crayton
) has spent most of her time in Columbia helping others," says a Columbia Missourian
story. Despite undergoing kidney dialysis, the former three-term First Ward City Councilwoman has continued a 14-year tradition of feeding the hungry on Thanksgiving through a volunteer event she founded called Everyone Eats!
Robertson's passionate and repeated calls to "do the right thing" are a lesson for everyone -- not just leaders. As one of Columbia's most well-regarded moral voices, he begins the first in our series of black leadership profiles below.
c) David Tyson Smith.
For his principled stands on issues of fairness and equity, Columbia criminal defense and appellate lawyer David Tyson Smith
has been a favored potential candidate for Columbia City Council. A leader of the group
that formed the Columbia Citizens Police Review Board, Tyson Smith is part of a growing population of young leaders who take a sophisticated, tech-savvy approach to making political and policy change.
d) Eliot Battle.
A legend in the annals of Columbia leadership, Eliot Battle
shares a transformative legacy with America's
great educators. With his calm, almost elegant demeanor, Battle and his wife Muriel
, for whom the new Battle High School is named, laid the groundwork for a broader and more equitable distribution of opportunity, particularly with regard to education and housing during the not-so-long-ago days of segregation in Columbia.
e) Pamela Ingram.
The founder of Granny's House
, an energetic mix of seven Christian programs for children with an apropos phone number -- 442-LOVE
-- Pam Ingram
is a University of Missouri School of Journalism grad whose passion reflects the adages of Jesus, who often referred to the innocence and humanity of the child as one of Earth's greatest blessings.
h) Mary Ratliff.
Next to Almeta Crayton, NAACP president Mary Ratliff
is Columbia's most high-profile black leader. A striking figure who continues to preside over virtually every issue of community racial equity, Ratliff is both a powerful, conscientious voice -- and a lightning rod for criticism. But just as critics are calling her yesterday's news, Ratliff comes out swinging with a big, consequential move. After her push for racial equity
on the city's Ward Reapportionment Committee, for instance, appointee Wiley Miller
became a key vote for a result that had virtually
the whole town standing firm, fighting hard, and cheering victory: Trial E.
i) Lorenzo Lawson.
"Keeping kids in school, off the streets, and out of trouble," is one way to sum up Pastor Lorenzo Lawson's
mission. Another member of Columbia's new black leadership generation, Lawson is a founding director of the Youth Empowerment Zone
who has been featured in nearly 400 news stories over the past decade, winning a number of leadership awards
along the way.