Share this story Above image credit: Carl Boyd introduces each segment of “Passing the Baton” with an explanation of the quote. The series was filmed at the Black Archives of Mid-America. (Courtesy | Sandy Woodson)
Those close to Carl Boyd like to say that he was born with the gift of faith.
Not just a religious faith, but a faith that tomorrow will be a better day.
At the heart of Boyd’s belief is the idea that today’s leaders will pass on their knowledge and hard work to enable tomorrow’s leaders to reach their potential.
Boyd’s ethos is deeply rooted in the new Flatland digital series “Passing the Baton.”
The project has been in the works for years, but the idea of passing the baton is even older.
A series of short videos, “Passing the Baton,” spotlights the stories and accomplishments of notable Kansas City civil rights leaders. Their stories are told through interviews with a “baton receiver,” someone younger who does similar work in the community today.
“When I think about the meaning of something called ‘Passing the baton,’ I’m seriously saying that it can actually lead to a reduction in violence in our community, because respect for our community will grow when you see who is putting their trust in you,” said Boyd. ‘When I pass this baton, I expect more from you.’
Boyd is a longtime urban educator who has dedicated decades of his experience to Kansas City. He’s partnered with Sandy Woodson, a regional Emmy-nominated independent producer who is equally dedicated to preserving Kansas City’s history.
History of origins
Boyd can trace the concept of passing on leadership skills to the next generation as far back as his childhood in the Ida B. Wells housing estate on the south side of Chicago.
In the segregated community, Boyd grew up around tough gang members, lawyers, and teachers who, despite their differences, shared a social acuity for empowering the younger generation.
“When I was 12, if one of the really tough kids I was imitating, saw me trying to be cool, he’d say, ‘Come here. You’re too smart to do that, and if you keep going, I’m going to tell your mom,’” Boyd recalled.
“When I was growing up in what was supposed to be a dangerous neighborhood, it wasn’t dangerous for all of us because of the informal passing of the torch.”
Fast forward to mid 80’s Kansas City. Boyd hosted a public access television show (later to become his “Generation Rap” radio show on KPRS) and a colleague noted that his generation did not do a good job of passing the torch and teaching women younger generations.
“So, the whole time, I was thinking about this passing of the torch situation,” Boyd said.
Next, community leader Leon Dixon, co-founder of the WEB DuBois Learning Center, reportedly shared Stan Wright’s quote about passing the baton that appears at the beginning of every “Passing the Baton” video.
As Boyd further developed the idea of a formal passing of the torch, he honored Dixon and called it “Leon’s Baton”.
Boyd has staged several baton passing ceremonies throughout his career, one live on radio, another with an in-person ceremony in 2013.
Those involved in the ceremony and Boyd himself knew there was still a lot to do with the concept.
When Boyd brought the idea to PBS Kansas City in 2020 and teamed up with Woodson, the idea was to document the stories of the influential people he’d met throughout his life.
“Now, it’s absolutely silly of me to think that this is the only vehicle available to these people who have acquitted themselves nationally, and in some cases internationally,” Boyd said of preserving stories through the project. .
His goal was not just to tell these people’s stories, but to let them tell the stories in their own words while they were still able.
As the project evolved, Boyd and Woodson came up with the idea of telling the stories through interviews with a witness recipient.
Some of the subjects had direct and literal recipients of the witness such as Alvin Brooks and Diane Charity. Other guests have been paired with the younger generation serving in similar fields.
“Here’s the work I’ve done, take it and carry it forward, just keep the work going,” Woodson said of how he thought about the project.
Time did not stand still during the planning phase of the project.
“Earlier we had this list and like every three months someone died,” Woodson recalled. “He was just like, this is ridiculous. We need to record these stories.”
But aside from the battle against the clock, Boyd has seen a number of problems plaguing Kansas City that he believes could be helped by better passing of the torch.
“Much of what our young people have been exposed to is from a historical perspective, less than their potential suggests,” Boyd said.
At a time when there are intense discussions about critical race theory or guns in schools, a rise in homicide rates and plans to close public schools in Kansas City, Boyd said it was a “critical” time.
“My passion lies in reducing violence not as an act in and of itself, but there is a purpose to reducing violence based on your knowledge of how great your potential is,” Boyd said.
Show people a positive example of leadership and community action and inspire them to build on it.
The dream, Boyd explained, is to have a positive expectation.
“Is there a point where we honestly believe we can overcome violence or illiteracy, or (live) in clean, progressive, peaceful communities?” Boyd asked.
Like Alvin Brooks, who appears in the first episode of “Passing the Baton” and founded the AdHoc Group Against Crime, Boyd said these fixes should be considered temporary. In the end, a criminal group or a group of tenants will not have to exist because the problem has been solved.
‘Passing the Torch’: Alvin Brooks
It’s an ambitious goal, but Boyd admitted he has the “gift of faith.”
“Dear God, thank you for everything you’ve done for me tomorrow,” Boyd said is his prayer.
“The gift of faith I am suggesting to you, not passing the baton ceremonially in and of itself, but having enough positive likenesses, conversations, dialogues, examples put before someone who looks like you for there to be a positive outcome that grows and grows and it grows,” Boyd said.
In 2013, when Boyd hosted a baton passing ceremony at Central Christina Church, he included a portion of the call-and-response program, a familiar practice in black churches.
The series, in a way, is a call to community. It asks people to respond and move forward with the work.
“This is a trusted witness, you don’t have to become me, but the idea behind passing the witness is to say, be better than me, in the realm where you feel most comfortable,” Boyd said.
Woodson noticed a line between Brian Hullaby and Diane Charity that didn’t make it into the final cut.
“At one point he said something like, ‘We’ve been on your shoulders and I see you’re tired. Are you ready for us to accept this and move forward with it,’” Woodson recalled.
‘Passing the Torch’: Diane Charity
Boyd, a lifelong educator, knows that the way to reach people is not to give them orders, but to inspire them to move forward.
“A strong leader is not successful unless he leads others to follow him. A strong teacher is not successful unless he gets others through,” Boyd said.
It also fits the stick metaphor. In a relay, the baton is passed forward, not backwards.
“If I had to hand over the baton, it’s not to say, I want to hand over the baton so you’ll follow me,” Boyd said. “The person who comes back is the person who grabs the baton, so young people have a responsibility to do better than those who were before them.”
Subsequent episodes of “Passing the Baton” will be released Mondays on Flatland and will air periodically on Kansas City PBS.
Boyd, who has collected a long list of baton passes, is continuing the story in a future series titled “Archives Alive.”
Tune into “Flatland in Focus” tonight at 7:00pm on Kansas City PBS for more conversations about mentorship in Kansas City.
Cami Koons covers rural affairs for Kansas City PBS in association with Report for America. The work of our Report for America Corps members is made possible, in part, through the generous support of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
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