Every community faces its own set of troubles with their local heroes. How much do you know about yours?
Lora McDonald, now the executive director of the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity (known as MORE2, pronounced “More Squared”), described her journey from disbelief to compassion. As an undergraduate student pursuing social work in a prison, her work brought her face to face with peers in her community on the other side of the bars. What at first appeared to be circumstances born of action and consequence were instead symptoms of injustice inflicted all around her — oppression and prejudice masked as the norm.
“I found myself sitting on one side of the desk making a decision about somebody’s fate, when in all reality,” McDonald said, “had I not been born a white woman, I might have been on the other side of the desk at someone else’s mercy. It was that day when I met with a man who was my same age, and all those circumstances that landed me in college put him in prison. I couldn’t not see it. Right down to our parents, who did the same things for a living, and our moms even had the same name. He and I were even born the same year. There were too many things for me to not see them. I was really digging in his file, thinking there had to be something he did that I didn’t do, and when I realized it wasn’t there, there was nothing left for me to see but my privilege.”
McDonald wasn’t the only person to recognize the widespread wrongs and decide to take action. That same momentum is what spurred the creation of MORE2. “When some faith-based leaders in Kansas City came together wanting to form some sort of organization in response to the inequitable ways in our city, they ended up contacting Gamaliel,” said McDonald. It was their faith that drew those leaders together, called to uplift their communities and break down the barriers dividing them. The Gamaliel Network, a national organization, helped those leaders and their congregations coalesce into MORE2 in September 2004.
Initially just 12 congregations, MORE2 now hosts about three times as many congregations, in addition to not-for-profits, individual members, and constituency groups. While the organization’s focus is on mobilizing and training leaders to tackle harm inflicted on their community, the shift to including individuals and constituency groups was a natural eventuality. Now, MORE2 is as much about building community to support their pillars of strength as it is about training leaders. “It took me a long time to understand that that was my job,” said McDonald. “We build and create a beloved community here in Kansas City.” These days, she said, it’s common to find the many leaders in MORE2 connecting with like-minded individuals over a cup of coffee, building interpersonal relationships that keep the community strong. Together, they can be more than the sum of their parts.
That community strength is necessary to power through the barriers MORE2 faces, while fighting injustice at home, because that sort of injustice can only be wrought by systems or people in power. One of the earliest problems McDonald recalls tackling centered around a policy that prohibited anyone with a drug-related felony from participating in food stamp programs. In addition to the dozens of other components of the prison system working against them, now people criminalized by the blatantly racist policies of the war on drugs were barred access to a basic human need: food. McDonald was still a social worker when that policy took effect, and she heard from and worked with many people directly impacted by it. For six years in a row, she and others invested in tearing down this barrier drove to Jefferson City testifying on the bill that she wrote — which would eventually reverse the food stamp ban.
That successful change in legislation is just one of many victories MORE2 achieved, and continues to achieve, for the community. The organization has task forces for criminal justice, health care, education, and immigration, each working to make Kansas City a kinder and fairer place for people affected by the oppression built into those social structures. At one point, for example, Kansas City Public Schools were at risk of being replaced with charter schools devoid of the infrastructure or practice serving students with unique needs, such as those for whom English is a second language, because administrators put personal matters before the welfare of the students in their districts. By digging deeper, spreading awareness, and ensuring KCPS got necessary accreditation, MORE2 secured the permanence of the public schools, protecting that access for everyone in need of those services.
For as much change as MORE2 has created for and with the community, there is always more to be done. Recently, the organization made great strides in the case against Roger Golubski, a former police detective who abused his power to harm many people. He has been accused of sexual assault by seven women and of wrongful incarceration of many more individuals, but though some of the people he harmed have been able to speak out, many more are still suffering the consequences of his abuse and waiting to be exonerated.
Much of the case against Golubski, and against other inequitable policy and legislation, revolves around amplifying the voices of those affected by the harm. “It’s my job to get people to the megaphone,” said McDonald. “I don’t empower anybody, they just need their way to the microphone.” Her background doing social work on a micro level has given her greater appreciation for the macro level impacts wrought by the work of MORE2, but she has not lost sight of the individuals behind the stories. “I’ve always operated with a mindset of not doing things for people, even when I provided direct service as a social worker. I do things with people. I want partners who are working toward their own success, and then I enhance that in whatever I bring to the table.”
There are many ways to get involved with MORE2 and make a difference for Kansas City, from donations to direct action. Get in contact by filling out the contact form at https://more2.org/contact/ to figure out how you can put your strengths to work for your neighbors, or for those outside of Kansas City, learn more about similar organizations near you at https://gamaliel.org/.