My Open Letter to Greater Liberty
October 25, 2016
from Ed Chasteen
This place I call Greater Liberty is not a place I ever planned to be. But it long ago became the place I cannot leave. I was required to come to this little place on the planet by the fellowship I accepted from the University of Missouri in Columbia in 1964. Together with my wife and three small children, we moved to a house at 10920 Ewing St. in Hickman Mills. I would drive early each morning to the Railway Exchange Building on the corner of 7th and Walnut in Kansas City where Community Studies had offices, this being the locally funded non-profit doing research on social problems in the city.
Over the year to come I interviewed hundreds of people on all sides of a public vote taken just before I came to decide if the city would continue its policy and practice of denying its black citizens the use of public accommodations. By a small margin the city voted to change. I wrote my doctoral dissertation describing how each side explained and organized itself and analyzing the vote in each voting ward by race and income. When my fellowship year was up and I had my PhD, I was free to leave. But knowing so many people and their problems in living together, I felt an urge to stick around too powerful to deny. I could go anywhere and teach the same books, but I would not know the people and their problems as I did here. At least for a while I would stay. Until the problems were worked out. Maybe I could help. I took a job at William Jewell College in Liberty, planning to stay a year, maybe two, then go back to Texas, where I had grown up.
These 51 years later my wife and I still live in Liberty in the only house we’ve ever owned. I am Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at William Jewell. Our now grown children live nearby. I came long ago to see myself as a doctor, not of the physical health of individuals but of the social well being of my community: this community I call Greater Liberty. My self-chosen task? Diagnose community problems. Then prescribe what I see as the remedy. By calling the community I serve Greater Liberty I seek to honor the name of my town, but even more I mean to call attention to the fact that each and every person among us has Greater Liberty than we ever know to rise above and beyond all the limitations that others expect of us and we too uncritically assume we must accept.
We all are known to others by color, religion, education, income, gender, age, political party, county of origin, sexual orientation and more. Rather than set us apart, making us fearful and angry, our differences can make us stronger, as alloys turn iron into steel. “Simply profound and profoundly simple, a formula for building human beings”: so said a reviewer about How To Like People Who Are not Like You, the book I wrote to do just that.
Our religious life has been enriched by the presence among us of the Islamic Center of the Northland, meeting for the past 13 years at Hillside Christian Church. Now in 2016 our Muslim neighbors are nearing completion of their own building near Metro North. On behalf of my church, Second Baptist in Liberty, I extend greetings and welcome their presence, as together we enrich the spiritual life of Greater Liberty.
Together with the Interfaith Council of Greater Kansas City, William Jewell College, Second Baptist Church and HateBusters, the non-profit I lead, and in recognition of 2016 as an Olympics year, when World Class Athletes gather for competition, we declare 2016 as the year of World Class Persons, and define such persons as those who can go anyplace at any time and talk to anyone about anything and feel safe.
To give practice to those who aspire to become World Class Persons, I will pair persons from different faiths. Each will be given the email address of the other and seven sets of questions to guide the seven conversations they will have together. Then every seventh Tuesday from May 3, 2016 until May 30, 2017, I will give everyone opportunity to gather Beneath the Steeple at William Jewell College from 7:30-9 o’clock in the evening to listen to the stories of the folks we are becoming for a while.
I never met a person I didn’t like. I don’t think it’s possible to like a person we haven’t met. To meet every person I can and expect to like every person I meet: This is my life’s ambition. Please join me. Send me an email. You need only say: I WANT IN. I will send you more.