Kansas

Young Black Kansas Citians form activist coalition to ensure ‘kids get seats at the table’ | KCUR 89.3

Rather than partying or relaxing during his final winter break, James McGee II spent much of his time organizing other young people and their families and reviving a wide-ranging charity called the Black Archives Youth Coalition Network, or BAYCON.

Earlier this month, the group hosted a public relaunch event and announced a series of intergenerational conversations to identify and address Kansas City’s needs through the lens of young people.

“Leaders will say they’re trying to get the youth perspective, but then they have one kid in a hundred people in the room,” McGee told a crowd of current and prospective members. “It doesn’t make sense to me and that’s why we formed this coalition.”

The meeting was the first of the group’s new quarterly programs.

“It’s about kids sitting down at the table to talk about the issues,” McGee said, “to talk about why certain things are the way they are and why we keep letting them be.”

BAYCON is the brainchild of McGee and seven other young people from around the subway. It was founded in 2020 by Carmaletta Williams, executive director of the Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City, and serves as the youth ministry division.

The mission is to engage urban youth socially and civicly through workshops, community activism and service.

“We’re going to bring a group of black leaders to discuss issues in Kansas City with students,” said McGee, now a student at Morehouse College. The idea is that young people “can give them feedback on possible solutions to ensure their voices are heard”.

Recent governing bodies included the 16th Circuit Court of Jackson County Judge Jalilah OttoGloria Cody, Equal Opportunity Program Director at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Chris Evans, owner of T-Shirt Kings Inc.

Evans, who also graduated from Morehouse College, says older people need to let the younger generation know they have a place and a voice in Kansas City.

“There’s just no denying that the intellect and the work ethic are there,” Evans said. “They will be future leaders, so it’s important to show that we embrace them.”

From safe space to supporting movement

According to McGee, BAYCON began as a safe space for young people to have difficult conversations without fear of rejection from their elders.

“We would come and talk about issues ranging from colorism to ageism to misogyny or how black women feel portrayed by the media,” he said. “We ended up connecting in so many different ways.”

The conversations also drew attention to resource differences among schools in Kansas City. McGee said the differences between kids attending Lincoln College Preparatory Academy and those attending Central High School raised eyebrows. Students also expressed concern about how the Lee’s Summit school district is funded compared to Kansas City public schools.

“It’s hard to grow up and thrive in an area when you know there aren’t enough resources or, when the resources are there, they just aren’t for you because you live in a different zip code,” McGee said.

After the death of George Floyd sparked nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, BAYCON’s discussions turned to activism by finding safe ways to support the movement. Members spoke at rallies and marched at protests.

When members of the group felt helpless in the run-up to the 2020 election, they held a voter registration drive to make a difference.

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Black Archives of Central America in Kansas City

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BAYCON’s voter registration drive with Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Famer Will Shields and members of the Youth Coalition.

“People were coming into the archives, and young people were going through the neighborhoods and also registering people,” said Executive Director Carmeletta Williams, who linked the group to the event’s sponsor Foundation Will to Success. The nonprofit organization founded by Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Famer Will Shields.

“Will To Succeed even provided a van and driver to take voters to Union Station to vote,” Williams said.

The group registered more than 70 people on National Voter Registration Day.

They also produced a documentary called 400 Years of Africans in America: A Journey Unimaginable. The film details the journey from Africa to slavery in the United States and how black life shaped American culture.

A woman sits on a stool in front of a green screen.  In front of her is a video tripod and next to it is a man in blue overalls.

Black Archives of Central America in Kansas City

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BAYCON students on the set of their production “400 Years of Africans in America: An Incredible Journey”.

During the COVID-19 lockdowns, BAYCON members have established a free lunch station for elementary school students in underserved areas.

At its peak last year, the program included 80 young people.

“They came from all places,” Williams said. “Not just in the Kansas City school district, but also in Blue Springs, Liberty, Piper, Lee’s Summit and Grandview.”

Passing the torch of leadership

After McGee and other founding members graduated from high school in 2021, colleges like Morehouse, Harvard University, Columbia College and American University called.

Morehouse even featured McGee in hers 2025 Freshman Spotlight for his work with the group.

But their departures left a local void in the ranks of BAYCON. McGee and others resorted to running the group from their dormitories.

Now they hold virtual meetings every other Saturday and spend their breaks in the Black Archives mentoring and advising new officers.

17-year-old John McGee, James’ younger brother, now serves as chairman. He wants to help the coalition become more inclusive.

“We realized that it’s not just black voices that matter,” said John McGee. “We need Hispanic voices, we need Asian voices, Native American voices and white student voice.”

He says he recognizes the size of the moment and the foundation laid by his predecessors.

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Lawrence Brooks IV

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KCUR 89.3

From left, James McGee II, Jonathan Haileselassie, Jillian Collier and Lena Otto discuss the importance of youth leadership January 6 at the Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City.

“It’s worked out great so far,” he said. “I am very grateful to all founding members of BAYCON.”

Older brother James has assured him that the founders’ help will continue.

“We will not be here Monday through Friday, but with our bi-weekly virtual meetings with the board and internal staff, we will continue to advise and help the new leadership keep BAYCON alive to serve the youth of Kansas City,” said James McGee.

The next Black Youth Coalition Network meeting will be Monday, February 6 at 6 p.m. at the Black Archives of Mid-America, 1722 E. 17th Terrace, Kansas City, Missouri 64108. For more details email [email protected]

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