Sumner High School was once a diamond that shined brightly in Kansas City, Kansas. Now, thanks to documentary filmmaker Kamiasha Moses-Tyner, the story of the first and only All-Black high school in the state of Kansas is preserved on DVD for generations to come. Sumner High School (1905-1978),
MosesTyner, a 2003 Sumner Academy graduate, conceptualized Sumner High School: The Best Kept Secret during a reunion for Sumner High School’s Class of 1973. Tyner’s multimedia company, Dignified Digital, had been contracted to film the reunion. After sitting down with Geri-Ann Jenkins, the reunion chairperson, Moses-Tyner inquired about a subject most people her age were unfamiliar with: the history of Sumner High School. Moses-Tyner said that before she talked to Jenkins, she didn’t know “before there was a Sumner Academy, there had been a Sumner High School.” After a six-hour think tank, where Jenkins answered questions about Sumner High School, an idea was born. Moses-Tyner decided to create a Sumner High School documentary film.
Her motive: “The core purpose of this project was to reach the Youtube surfing generation. If the information wasn’t presented in a medium that they could grasp and understand, this story would be lost and soon forgotten,” Moses-Tyner wrote in the DVD’s liner notes.
After committing to the project, Moses-Tyner said she single-handedly “toted” 50 pounds of camera and production equipment from door-to-door to talk to 40 people. She recorded over 57 hours of interviews with Sumner High School Alumni during which they shared the rich story of Sumner High School’s excellence in academics, science competitions, sports, and music.
The oldest person she interviewed on camera was Mrs. Inez Kaiser, who Moses-Tyner said reflected well the quality of student’s who graduated from the school. Kaiser, a member of the Sumner High School Class of 1935, became the first African-American woman to run a public relations company with national clients, which included 7-up.
“Passion and curiosity is what created this and the rest of it just fell into place,” Moses-Tyner said.
Moses-Tyner started the project in September 2013 and said it took her a “full-circle” year to complete. As the self-proclaimed “Tyler Perry” of the film, Moses-Tyner served as the film’s director, producer, writer, editor and also designed the DVD’s cover art and companion booklet.
“The hardest part,” Moses-Tyner said, “is that there is so much information. We are talking about 70 years of information.”
Jenkins proclaimed the finished product “excellent” and hopes “the same awareness” of history Moses-Tyner enjoyed as she put this together will be the same awareness “others will know.” Jenkins said that she wouldn’t be surprised if Tyner’s talents take her to other places in the near future.
“One day we will see some of her work- whether it’s a documentary or a movie- that gets an Oscar because, she is highly gifted in this area,” Jenkins said.
So far, the DVD is available on Moses-Tyner’s page and on Amazon.com. However, Tyner is committed to getting the Sumner story out to a wider audience. Local public television station KCPT appears committed to adding the documentary to its TV schedule and Tyner is exploring making the documentary available on Netflix. If you’re interested, the documentary can be purchased on Dignified Digitals website and a copy is also on file in the Sumner High Alumni room at Sumner Academy.
And although Sumner High School: The Best Kept Secret was released more than three years ago, Moses-Tyner said some of the factual stuff she learned while making the film still stays with her today:
“The boys had to swim naked. That was eye-opening and interesting. LOL. I was kind of blown away,” she said.