Alvin Brooks, with due respect to the professional clergy in town, is the real pastor for the larger community, as I suggested some years ago in my Kansas City Star column.
And now we have the opportunity to make him mayor. LGBT folks in Kansas City will want to vote for him, and if you don’t live in KC, you can help finance his campaign because Al is needed regionwide.
The role of mayor is far more than a technician. We have a city manager for that. But Al Brooks does know city government inside out, first as a police officer, and later organizing the city’s first Human Relations Department and becoming the first African American to head a department. Later he was promoted to assistant city manager. He is now serving his second term on City Council and has discharged his duties as mayor pro tem with distinction.
But beyond his vast experience in government, Al has served in countless community efforts, including founding the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime.
The mayor sets the tone for the city and should have the ability, the experience, and the passion to recognize all citizens.
My work gives me the opportunity to know many public figures. No one is better fit for mayor than Al Brooks. Bill Clinton met with Al to discuss urban issues. Even George H.W. Bush recognized Al as one of his “Thousand Points of Light” in America.
The LGBT community has been fortunate with Mayor Kay Barnes’ active support for our issues. She’s even able to have some fun with us, including dressing up like June Cleaver to appear on the cover of this publication.
Mayor Barnes has endorsed Al. He not only understands the social and political dimension of LGBT issues, he understands them personally. I am sure of this because I have experienced the wisdom of his intimate advice. I would call him a sage old man except his health and energy level surpass many 30-year-olds.
But most of my work with Al has involved interfaith issues. Because respect for religious differences and respect for sexual differences represent the same style of respect, let me outline some of Al’s remarkable commitment to this dimension of civic life.
Al recently said, “I have spent my life trying to improve conditions for minorities and to build bridges between different racial, ethnic and religious groups. Since Sept. 11, 2001, I regularly read from the Quran, the Torah and the Bible.”
So let’s begin with Sept. 11. The Interfaith Council was scheduled to announce the area’s first interfaith conference. Unexpectedly, Al showed up as the announcement was made and TV images of the World Trade Center dramatized the need for interfaith understanding. Al and I met again later that day to discuss what could be done. His presence was life-giving at a Sept. 16 interfaith event in Johnson County, which was the first time some religious minorities had dared leave their homes after the terrorist attacks.
The following year, at the annual Thanksgiving Sunday with the Interfaith Council, he was recognized with an award “for his work as citizen and his career of public service locally and internationally celebrating religious pluralism and the dignity of the human spirit in compassion, justice, and leadership.”
CBS-TV came from New York to report on interfaith work here. When the national broadcast was screened at Union Station, Al was selected to introduce it.
The funeral of his own son, which Al himself led in incredibly dignified sorrow, involved leaders from several faith traditions.
Al organized an ongoing monthly interfaith dinner club so folks from all over the metro area could discuss their spiritual journeys in a fun, social setting.
My list outruns my space, but this is a sampling of a man whose insistent interest in diversity of all kinds requires not only our applause but now our votes and dollars, to focus on what Al calls our “human infrastructure,” to lead us into a truer community than ever before.
The Rev Vern Barnet, DMn., does consulting, teaching and writing for religious and educational organizations here. His Kansas City Star column appears each Wednesday.