UMKC Vice Chancellor of Diversity Honored in Kansas City Statue

Susan Wilson listed among contemporary icons of the African American community at sculpture site
Susan Wilson stands in front of Phoenix Rising statue

The plaque below the sculpture is emblazoned with the names of giants, 18 in all, including  Lucille Bluford, Julia Hill, Mamie Hughes, Leon Jordan, Ollie Gates, Bruce Watkins — and UMKC Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Susan B. Wilson, Ph.D.

The plaque accompanies a statue, "Phoenix Rising Out of the Ashes," erected earlier this year at the redeveloped Linwood Shopping Center at the intersection of 31st Street and Prospect Avenue. Created by sculptor Ed Dwight, the artwork is a tribute to the perseverance and resiliency of the people in the surrounding neighborhoods, and their effort to overcome generations of oppression and neglect.

Several plaques surround the sculpture; the one that includes Wilson is a salute to “the contemporary contributors to the progress, the legacy, the culture and the economic viability of Kansas City.”

Phoenix Rising sculpture

 There was no blue-ribbon committee appointed to choose the individuals to be honored. The artist made the decision on his own.

“I looked for people who struck a chord within me,” as he did his research for the statue, Dwight said. He grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, but left decades ago and is a longtime resident of Denver. He combed through the Black Archives of Mid America, seeking inspiration.

Wilson “teaches people the value of diversity and inclusion,” Dwight said. “That’s what I do through my art, and as I read about her, I felt some kinship with what she was doing.”

Wilson has a long history as a diversity advocate, psychologist and educator. In her work as a community mental health director, she sought to bringing culturally competent care to central city African Americans. She led the implementation of Jackson County‘s first-ever mental health court, working with municipal court to divert non-violent individuals with mental health issues to treatment, not jail. She has served as a treating clinician for the Kansas City Chiefs and the National Football League.

A UMKC vice chancellor since 2014, Wilson implemented a comprehensive, campus-wide plan for diversity and inclusion, built diversity and inclusion training programs and led efforts to conduct a climate survey. She has also worked with numerous school districts and community organizations to advance diversity and inclusion.

Wilson had no idea the honor was coming. Dwight did not reveal the names of honorees in advance of the unveiling.

“A friend texted me from the unveiling,” Wilson recalled. “I was shocked. It is very flattering to be on a plaque with some of the great leaders of Kansas City. With the kind of work I do, people don’t often know what kind of impact I make.”

Detail of plaque with Susan Wilson's name

 Wilson said her post at UMKC is just one example of the university’s close ties to the metro Kansas City community.

“Some universities can be like ivory towers on a high hill above their community,” Wilson said. “UMKC’s practice of hiring people with community connections is a real plus.”


Published: Aug 27, 2019

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