The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was the site of a special event where the University of Missouri Kansas City Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Brandon Martin introduced three new African-American coaches and a “new era” for UMKC athletics.
Introduced were: Kiki Stokes O’Conner, Marvin Menzies, and Dionnah Jackson-Durrett.
O’Connor, a Kansas City native, is the first Black women’s softball coach in the program’s history. She comes to UMKC after a successful coaching experience at Upper Iowa University. In addition to coaching, Stokes O’Connor is the Co-Owner of This Is Us Softball, a nonprofit organization which empowers young women to embrace diversity and inclusion in softball.
Jackson-Durrett, who will serve as the women’s basketball coach, is also the first African-American female to hold her position. She comes to UMKC from the University of Texas where she served as associate head coach. Jackson-Durrett is a former first round WNBA draft pick and St. Louis native. In 2001 she was named Missouri High School Player of the Year and was recognized as an All-American during her career at the University of Oklahoma.
Menzies is the head men’s basketball coach for the UMKC Roos. He comes to UMKC with 12 years of head coaching and five appearances in the NCAA tournament with New Mexico State University. His coaching history also includes stints at Grand Canyon University and University of Nevada Las Vegas. Menzies is touted as an expert recruiter.
At the event, co-sponsored by Councilwoman Melissa Robinson and moderated by Negro League Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick, each of the coaches and Martin spoke about their goals for the upcoming season, both on and off the athletic field.
“One of our many goals in the athletic department is winning but also community engagement and I think this shows that UMKC is committed to building up our community,” Martin said. “We really feel like this is an introduction to a new era of Kansas City athletics. I feel like these three coaches can become pillars in our community.”
With the new diversity in coaches, comes a commitment to community. According to each coach a top priority will not just be winning on the court but to bridge their programs with the people within the Kansas City community.
Stokes O’Connor said her experiences as a minority in the sport lead to her dedication to growing and expanding diversity within the sport.
“Growing up I was the token Black girl on the team and softball was always known as a White sport,” Stokes O’Connor said. “Seeing little brown and Black girls wanting to play is inspiring and motivating to empower this next generation.”
“When you look at the history of Kansas City, to be here with other coaches of color is an honor,” Menzies said. “To be of color and to represent our sports, our families, our race, and the community is an obligation to go out and do the best we can.”
In support of the team’s effort to support the community, members of the men’s team assisted at Operation Backpack, an annual school supply program started by Councilwoman Ryanna Parks-Shaw.
Jackson-Durrett said her program is also focused on connecting with the community and leading through actions.
“The most important thing to our program is connecting to this community,” Jackson-Durrett said. “Representing the right way and being role models and stepping forward to show what it’s like to work hard, to show the community that we can be their team. That’s what we’re all about.”