Modern African American history is filled with many trailblazers.
- Rosa Parks, who was one of the first to defiantly stand up to segregation.
- Martin Luther King Jr., who was central in the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.
- Barack Obama becoming the first African American President of the United States in 2009.
- Jesse Owens, a decorated track star who set a world record in the long jump in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
- Jackie Robinson who became the first African American to play in the MLB for the Brooklyn Dodgers and inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame 15 years later.
- Muhammad Ali heralded as the greatest boxer of all the time.
- Michael Jordan regarded also as the greatest basketball player of all the time who made a monumental difference in the fight for equality.
All these individuals had a distinct job and titles they were responsible for, but most of all they moved the baton forward to stop injustice and continue putting African Americans and other minorities in places of authority and representation to effect change for the better.
Here at Catholic Charities Kansas City-Saint Joseph, we want to take time to reflect on the life of Rashey B. Moten Jr., who was the first African American to lead a Catholic Charities organization, more specifically as the Executive Director at Catholic Charities Kansas City-Saint Joseph from 1970 to 1981. Moten Jr. was critical in bringing social work back to providing hands on, day-to-day services to the needy and vulnerable. He was held in high regard by the 38th president of the United States of America, Jimmy Carter. At the Annual Convention of the National Conference of Catholic Charities in Kansas City on October 15th, 1979, President Carter placed Moten on the Advisory Committee of the White House Conference on Families. The conference sought to understand how the actions of the Federal Government and major private institutions have helped, hurt, or neglected American families. They had three different conferences that next summer in 1979 in Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles that brought together a wide variety of individuals of geographic diversity. Whether they were young, old, male, female, disabled, white, African American, Latino(a) etc. It brought families to the center of policymaking and setting an agenda for action with the input of everybody’s participation in the conference’s objectives. As Carter put it, Moten Jr. was involved in “one of the most important and challenging tasks ever undertaken by a group of Americans”.
Moten Jr. also helped launch Head Start in 1965, under the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. It is a program to increase school readiness in birth age children all the way up to five, at no cost to them as well as children with disabilities or experiencing homelessness as well as in the foster care system. There are a variety of services they offer that include: early learning and development, health, and family well-being. In early learning and well-being, they learn many skills through spontaneous play, as well as planned instruction such as social skills, emotional well-being, literacy, and math and science. The program seeks to plant the foundation that a parent’s guidance is the most critical authority to a child’s development and approach to the rest of their life. The program knows how important it is for children to immerse themselves in the environment around them. To do that, every child receives health screenings, nutritious meals and other programs that have medical, dental, and mental health services. To progress the development of the child, they also provide services to achieve family goals like housing stability, continued education, and financial security.
Also in the 1960s, Moten Jr. helped start the Neighborhood Youth Corps in Kansas City. The Neighborhood Youth Corps is a work-training program that was launched through the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 in January of 1965. Since its inception, it has opened 1.5 million job opportunities for young Americans who come from families with big financial struggles. In the Kansas City area alone, it has made a big impact in the means of volunteering. Serving with Youth Volunteer Corps gives kids ages 11 through 18 the outlet to experience a team-based service experience that promotes life and work skills. The immediate impact has changed kids’ lives forever. 67% of kids better understood the needs of their community, 71% wanted to take further to meet those needs in their community, 139% handled changing priorities better, 75% increased their ability to complete a task without supervision, and 98% prioritized their time easier.
Rashey B. Moten Jr. died on August 23rd, 2000, and is buried in Mount Olivet cemetery in Raytown, Missouri. Although he has passed on; his impact and lifetime of service has not, he has inspired the next generation of African Americans just like him. That man is not defined in stature and prominence alone but measured in how many lives they can touch around them.
In the month of February also known as Black History Month, we want to celebrate all the progress we have made for all humanity under God. No matter your skin color or ethnicity, we are all one human family and want to honor and respect all who have come before us to pave a better way for the generation that follows.
Thank you Mr. Moten, Jr.