Mar 23, 2007    #033
Contact: Amanda Lepper
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UMKC alumna Maggie Finefrock honored for dedicating her life to creating equality

To some, Maggie Finefrock might appear a surprising representative of the fight against inequality. But this fair-skinned woman from rural Ohio embodies the modern movement, insisting prejudice and justice no longer “minority issues” but rather the responsibility of each and every human being.

“This struggle belongs to us all. This is something that we need to do together,” Finefrock said. “Any time someone says ‘they,’ I always say, ‘Houston, we have a pronoun problem.’ This is a ‘we’ thing.”

It’s with this attitude that Finefrock set out to change the world, hoping to eradicate discrimination, racism and bigotry while building cross-cultural competence in race relations and an appreciation for diversity. In the past 35 years, she’s made great strides toward accomplishing that goal, and in recognition of her success, the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Education has named Finefrock to receive its 2006-07 Alumni Achievement Award.

“Maggie has exemplified what any school would like to see in on of its graduates: making a difference to improve the lives of people, bridging cultures, a change agent, community leadership and a commitment and passion for diversity,” said Edward Underwood, executive director for the UMKC Institute for Urban Education.

Finefrock will accept the award at the Alumni Association’s dinner and program scheduled for 5:30 p.m. April 19, 2007, in the Swinney Recreation Center, 5030 Holmes St., on the UMKC campus.

Every year, one alumnus from each of the university’s 12 academic units is selected to receive the Alumni Achievement Award for his or her notable professional success and outstanding community service. Finefrock earned a Master of Arts in Educational Administration at UMKC in 1988 which jump started her efforts to create greater equality and opportunity in nearly every facet of the Kansas City community as well as within businesses and organizations throughout the world.

Finefrock said her awareness of inequality developed long ago when, as a high school student, she learned first-hand the role wealth plays in determining the quality of education a student receives. At 16, Finefrock was still being taught basic spelling and reading in the small, rural school district she attended in Ohio while students attending wealthier schools were discussing literature and participating in intellectual debates.

“I realized we had a disparate educational system, and depending on what economic class you are in this county, what color you are, what background you have, that you were getting a different education,” she said.

So, Finefrock applied to private school, was accepted and used her college savings to obtain the rigorous education for which she yearned. The experience inspired her to work toward ensuring all students, regardless of income or race, receive the same quality of education she demanded for herself. After attending Santa Barbara City College in California, Finefrock joined the Teachers Corps to achieve that end. In 1970, she participated in the desegregation of Norfolk State University in Virginia and later returned to Ohio to teach students near her hometown.

Finefrock found her way to the Kansas City area in 1979 when she was recruited to serve as a coordinator for the Association of Unity Churches in Lee’s Summit. There, she trained teachers, developed curricula and organized conferences on spiritual education. Always looking for the next challenge, Finefrock joined the Peace Corps in 1982 and traveled to Nepal, where she taught English to students of all ages and trained Nepali teachers and administrators in teaching methods and community leadership.

When she returned to Kansas City in 1986, Finefrock enrolled in educational administration courses at UMKC in hopes of gaining a greater understanding of the American education system. Although her focus initially was education, she developed an emphasis in conflict mediation upon the advice of then-Undersecretary General of the United Nations Robert Muller.

Finefrock met the peacekeeping leader shortly after her return to the United States and asked him how she could best hone her skills to serve the world. Without hesitating, Muller said the world needed leaders who could mediate conflicts, bring people together and eliminate cultural divisions.

“So that has been my specialty, bringing groups together to creatively work through conflicts, to focus on high-performing cultures and to really align themselves with where their vision is,” Frinefrock said.

After she completed her degree, Kansas City called upon Finefrock to put her skills to use as the director of Harmony in a World of Difference, a race relations program designed to bring education, media, business and community groups together to increase multicultural understanding and combat racism. Under Finefrock’s leadership, the program was a significant success and still exists today as Kansas City Harmony/NCCJ.

In recent years, Finefrock has focused her energies on The Learning Project, her consulting business that offers services to corporations and organizations seeking help in race relations, organizational development and conflict mediation. Her work has taken her to all 50 states, as well as Canada, Mexico, Asia, Australia, Africa and Europe. While she has worked what some call “Maggie Magic” for countless individuals and organizations, she sees her work as continually and crucially necessary.

“We simply cannot afford any more time in not addressing these issues of disparity and division,” she said. “To me, these issues that we’re working on – in bringing people together, in unifying people across lines and looking at disparities – are life and death issues. Everyday, somebody’s life is lost, peoples’ economic means are lost, our children are lost.”

It’s for that undying passion that UMKC honors this most distinguished alumna.

UMKC is one of four University of Missouri campuses. It is a public university serving more than 14,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students. UMKC engages with the community and economy based on a three-part mission: visual and performing arts, health and life sciences and urban affairs.



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