Governor Laura Kelly today announced Stacey Knoell, Olathe, as the new Executive Director of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission.
In the 2020 elections, ran for a seat in the Kansas Senate representing a district in Johnson County. As a political newcomer in a fairly evenly divided political county, Knoell came in close, but loss by less than 2,000 votes. She currently co-leads the third congressional district chapter for the Kansas Interfaith Action organization.
Previously, Knoell worked as a public-school teacher for eight years as a sign language interpreter and a math teacher. Her volunteer activities include work at the Catholic Charities food pantry and at her church as a teen leader and youth counselor. Knoell and her husband reside in Olathe with their two daughters.
“Stacey has a proven track record of working hard for her community, and I know she will be a great advocate for Black Kansans,” Governor Laura Kelly said. “She’ll bring a valuable vision to the Commission and use her experience to work with public and private partners, stakeholders, businesses, and agencies to reduce inequities and disparities that Black Kansans face every day.”
Cox, who resigned last week, was appointed Executive Director of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission by Governor Sam Brownback in January 2016. As a Republican political appointee in a Democratic administration, Cox had survived far longer than most Kansas politic watchers had expected.
While Cox is proud of a number of KAAAC accomplishments during her administration, one that she’s particularly proud of if the completion of the Brown v. Board of Education mural installed on the third floor of the Statehouse in 2018. The mural, which commemorate the ruling in the 1954 Supreme Court case that desegrated public education, was original approved in 2009. The legislative approval did not set aside any funding for the project so the project had limited progress for years until Cox and KAAAC got behind the effort.
Cox told the Topeka Capitol Journal she successfully pressed Brownback into using his "political capital" to help move the project along, but that the funding needed for the project came from a grassroots effort instead of a few large corporate donations.
"Which really was a beautiful thing," Cox said. "Because then it really became the people's mural. It was something that we did, collectively, together."
In a statement announcing Cox’s resignation, Gov. Kelly expressed her deep tanks to Cox for her service. “Not only did Kenya spearhead initiatives to reshape the Commission and its work, but she did so between two different administrations and through a once-in-a-century health crisis. I’m particularly grateful for her and her fellow Commission members’ partnership and efforts to provide information, advocacy, and support services to Black Kansans through each phase of our COVID-19 response,” Governor Kelly said.
“I have a love and commitment to Kansas’ African American communities, and I want to thank Governor Kelly for the opportunity to work with this administration on their behalf,” said Cox,, who will continue her service as President of the Kansas State Organization of NAACP Branches.
Even though Knoell’s appointment by passes the State Charter policy that has the KAAAC commissioners taking the lead in hiring the commission’s executive director, KAAAC Chair Dr. Beryl New released a statement giving her and her fellow commissioners support of Knoell’s selection.
“Ms. Knoell’s political success in her recent close Senate race underscores her commitment to serve through the promotion of ideals and convictions that speak to the heart of being an African American citizen of Kansas. Her platform mirrored the KAAAC’s ongoing priority focus areas – health care, education, community policing, mental health, awareness of race-based violence, and access for all to life-sustaining resources,” said New. “I am confident that Ms. Knoell will continue to move the work of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission forward so that every African American in Kansas has the opportunity to connect with the work of the Commission and know that their voice is not just important, but necessary.”
“I have already spent time talking with the other commissioners and the members of the Black Caucus in the Statehouse and I am encouraged by the amount of optimism and enthusiasm I hear concerning the future of KAAAC,” Stacey Knoell said. “Ms. Cox left this Commission in a very healthy place and I am excited about the prospect of becoming an even more active group with a tangible impact on the African American community in Kansas.”