C.J. Janovy: This Wichita senator has a message for the Kansas Legislature from her mother in 1972 (Column)

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Originally published by Kansas Reflector on March 17, 2021:

Kansas Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau isn’t asking for much.

After the year we just had, it’s not unreasonable to ask newly certified law enforcement officers to attend diversity meetings organized by the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training.

“Maybe not every law enforcement officer and certainly not those who are tenured,” she told me, “but some of the new graduating cadets, before they go out on the streets, they just have that dialog with community members to answer and ask questions that would be helpful to them of interacting with those on their beat.”

Faust-Goudeau, a Democrat from Wichita, has witnessed such training sessions already.

“It was beautiful,” she said. “We were all hugging, and we were like all friends by the time we left and it was just awesome. The officers said they were so glad they did that.”

That idea is similar to recommendations from the state’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice, convened by Gov. Laura Kelly last year in response to a summer of assertions that Black Lives Matter.

The goal of her Senate Bill 9 is to save lives, she said. “That’s it.”

So far, though, it hasn’t had a hearing in the Senate’s Judiciary Committee.

These days, Faust-Goudeau wonders how much Black lives matter in the Kansas Legislature.

She was the first Black woman ever elected to the state Senate. That was only in 2009, after she’d served in the House from 2003-2008.

Today, only eight of Kansas’ 165 senators and representatives are Black. There are Faust-Goudeau’s fellow Wichitans, Rep. KC Ohaebosim and Rep. Gail Finney, both Democrats, and Rep. Patrick Penn, a Republican. There’s Rep. Barbara Ballard, a Democrat from Lawrence, and three more Democrats from Kansas City: Sen. David Haley, Rep. Valdenia Winn and Rep. Broderick Henderson.

Her fellow senators didn’t seem to care that Faust-Goudeau buried her brother, Randall Faust Jr., on Jan. 15, just a few days after the legislative session began, based on the way they’ve mostly ignored her plea that they wear masks.

Another one of her bills, Senate Bill 100, would make it easier for people whose driver’s licenses have been suspended to pay their fines and regain their privileges, as long as their original violations were traffic offenses rather than something more serious.

When people have paid their fines, she says, they shouldn’t have to wait another 90 days to get their driver’s license back. The Legislature likes for Kansans to work, after all. And it’s harder for people to get to work when they don’t have driver’s licenses.

“It’s a win-win,” Faust-Goudeau. “The bottom line is, it’s not just Black issues. A lot of Kansans are in this suspended-revoked status.”

She said that bill might get a hearing next week in the Federal and State Affairs Committee.

Forgive me for being cynical when I figure that’s because the issue affects white people too.

“We’re still separate but equal kind of crap,” Faust-Goudeau said of issues in front of the Legislature.

She said she wasn’t going to keep cussing about it. I’d like to see more cussing, but you can’t blame Faust-Goudeau for being tired. She held up her phone to show something to a couple of reporters.

“This will explain my whole life,” she said.

It was a video, made in 1972, of Faust-Goudeau’s mother, Oretha Faust.

Faust is being interviewed by Carol Parks Hahn, a leader of the 1950s sit-ins at Wichita’s Dockum Drug Store. By the ‘70s, Hahn was a graduate student at Wichita State University, where she hosted a half-hour documentary on the status of women.

More women were entering the workforce, Hahn noted, before saying something that sounds eerily familiar.

“Black women, with the longest history of work experience, have benefited the least from rising economic standards,” Hahn said.

Then she introduced Faust, who had been “working for the welfare of the poor for a number of years” and could provide insight.

“Things are really tough for one-parent families,” Faust began. “Not because they started out a one-parent family, because, probably most of the time, the father left or got killed or a little bit of nothing got him in jail or something, and it really made it hard for the mother and children.”

Even when these single mothers had jobs, it was still a struggle to find a decent place to live, keep up with the utility bills, find the time and energy to cook healthy meals for their kids, she said.

Hahn asked how an individual could be part of the solution.

“Well coming out and getting involved with the people that really have problems,” Faust said. “Not assuming.”

The video surfaced recently when Faust-Goudeau’s daughter, Paris Cunningham, the curator at The Kansas African American Museum in Wichita, found it while putting together a presentation for Women’s History Month.

“I was scrolling through the video and I saw my grandmother’s face,” Cunningham said.

Faust died in September 2001, when Cunningham was just 7 years old.

“By the time I was able to make memories, around 4 or 5 or so, she was really sick, so I didn’t get to speak with her much,” Cunningham said. “But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned so much more about her — her impact, tenacity, confidence. In one newspaper article for the Wichita Eagle, it was titled ‘Lady with the big mouth.’ She was not afraid to say what she needed to say and willing to really work with what she said.”

All of which is cool. But there’s a problem.

“It makes me want to cry right now,” Faust-Goudeau said, “to see that my mother was advocating for that in 1972 and here we are in 2021 and I’m still fighting for the same things.”

What good is a night-shift job on the other side of town if the buses don’t run around the clock? What good is any job if it doesn’t pay enough for child care? How does a single mother go to work all day and then make sure there’s a healthy meal on the table every night?

Faust-Goudeau’s daughters are fourth-generation Kansans.

“My mother wanted life better for me and I want life better for my daughters and grandchildren and for all Kansans,” she said. “We’re supposed to be doing everything we do to make life better for those who come after us.”

Considering everything, passing Senate Bill 9 is the absolute least her fellow lawmakers could do.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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