Instead of partying or relaxing during his recent winter break, James McGee II spent much of his time organizing other young people and their families and reviving a wide-ranging service organization called the Black Archives Youth Coalition Network, or BAYCON .
Earlier this month, the group held a public revitalization event and announced a series of intergenerational conversations to identify and address the needs of Kansas City through the lens of youth.
“Leaders will say (they’re) trying to get the perspective of young people, but then they’ve got one kid out of a hundred people in the room,” McGee told a crowd of current and prospective members. me and that is why we started this coalition.
The meeting was the first of the group’s new quarterly schedules.
“It’s about kids sitting around the table to talk about problems,” McGee said, “to talk about why certain things are the way they are and why we keep leaving them that way.”
BAYCON is the brainchild of McGee and seven other young men from all over Metro. It was founded in 2020 by Carmaletta Williams, executive director of the Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City, and serves as a youth outreach division.
The mission is to engage urban youth socially and civically through workshops, community activism, and service.
“We will bring a group of black leaders to discuss issues within Kansas City with students,” said McGee, now a student at Morehouse College. The idea is that young people “can give them feedback on possible solutions, making sure their voice is heard”.
The most recent group of leaders included Judge Jalilah Otto of the 16th Circuit Court of Jackson County, Gloria Cody, equal opportunity program manager in the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Chris Evans, owner of T-Shirt Kings Inc.
Evans, who is also a graduate of Morehouse College, says older people need to let the younger generation know they have a place and a voice in Kansas City.
“There’s no denying that the intellect and the work ethic are there,” Evans said. “They’re going to be future leaders, so it’s important to show that we embrace them.”
From safe space to movement support
BAYCON started as a safe space for young people to have difficult conversations without fear of rejection from older adults, according to McGee.
“We would come to talk about issues from colorism to age to misogyny, or how Black women feel portrayed in the media,” she said. “We ended up connecting in so many different ways.”
The conversations also drew attention to resource disparities among Kansas City schools. McGee said the differences for children who went to Lincoln College Preparatory Academy versus those who attended Central High School raised eyebrows. Students have also shown concern about how Lee’s Summit School District is being funded compared to Kansas City public schools.
“It’s hard to grow in one area and be successful when you know the resources are lacking or, if the resources are there, they just aren’t for you because you live in a different zip code,” McGee said.
After George Floyd’s death sparked nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, BAYCON discussions turned to activism by finding safe ways to support the movement. Members spoke at rallies and marched in protest.
When group members felt powerless ahead of the 2020 election, they held a voter registration drive to make an impact.
“People went into the archives, and young people also walked around the neighborhood and registered people,” said executive director Carmeletta Williams, who connected the group with event sponsor Will to Succeed Foundation. The non-profit organization founded by Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Famer Will Shields.
“Will To Succeed even provided a van and driver to take voters to Union Station so they could cast their ballots,” Williams said.
The group registered more than 70 people on National Voter Registration Day.
They also produced a documentary titled “400 Years of Africans in America: An Inconceivable Journey.” The film offers an in-depth story of the journey from Africa to slavery in the United States and how black life has shaped American culture.
During the COVID-19 lockdowns, BAYCON members set up a free cafeteria for elementary school students in underserved areas.
At its peak last year, the program included 80 youth.
“They came from all places,” Williams said. “Not just in the Kansas City School District, but Blue Springs, Liberty, Piper, Lee’s Summit and Grandview as well.”
Passing the torch of leadership
After McGee and other founding members graduated from high school in 2021, colleges like Morehouse, Harvard University, Columbia College and American University called.
Morehouse even featured McGee in their 2025 Freshman Spotlight for his work with the group.
But their departures left a local void in BAYCON’s ranks. McGee and others resorted to managing the group from their dorm rooms.
They now hold virtual meetings every other Saturday and spend their breaks at the Black Archives, mentoring and advising new officers.
Seventeen-year-old John McGee, younger brother of James, is now president. He wants to help the coalition be more inclusive.
“We recognized that it wasn’t just black voices that mattered in this,” said John McGee. “We need Hispanic voices, we need Asian voices, Native American voices, and the voice of white students.”
He says he recognizes the magnitude of the moment and the foundations laid by his predecessors.
“It’s worked out a lot so far,” he said. “I am very grateful to all the founding members of BAYCON.”
His older brother James assured him that the help from the founders would continue.
“We will not be here Monday through Friday but, with our bi-weekly virtual meetings with the board and internal staff, we will continue to advise and assist the new leadership in keeping BAYCON alive to serve the youth of Kansas City,” said James McGee .
The next meeting of the Black Youth Coalition Network is at 6:00 pm Monday, February 6 at the Black Archives of Mid-America, 1722 E. 17th Terrace, Kansas City, Missouri 64108. For more details, please email BAYCON @blackarchives.org.