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Alonzo Weston

This new decade has been anything but grand. We see the beginning of the 2020s typified by a global pandemic that threatens to define the rest of the decade.

The year so far has taken too many of our influential people, both national and local.

We lose people every year, but 2020 seems extra brutal because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has not only claimed human lives, but sped up the deaths of many small businesses nationwide.

2020 saw us lose Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, actor Chadwick Boseman, “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek, poet and author Toni Morrison, Marvel comics creator Stan Lee, country singer Charley Pride, Chicago Bears famed running back Gale Sayers and Sean Connery, the original James Bond, to name a few.

Locally we suffered important deaths to our community, too. Bob Simpson, Kenzie Gilbert and Larry Sample were all men with a heart for community and other people.

Larry Sample and his wife, Jeannie, were my neighbors when I was 10 years old. Wonderful people then and now.

Larry served the underprivileged through his church and other social service outlets. Fearless, fair and kind, Larry worked the Kansas City riots in the 1970s in law enforcement. He was able to see both sides of a conflict.

Kenzie and his wife, Sheila, operated Food for Kids, a summer lunch program for underprivileged youth and families.

Through donations, the couple sponsored water fun for kids who can’t afford public pools as well as gave away turkeys and other food items for the holiday season. Kenzie and Sheila fed the hungry, plain and simple.

Last but not least is Bob Simpson, a pillar of a man. I met Bob through his work helping the Coleman Hawkins Jazz society erect a statue of the famed jazz saxophonist in the Downtown park bearing his name.

Bob spearheaded the erection of other statues, one of which is “Westward Ho” at the foot of Third and Edmond streets that greets travelers getting off Interstate 229.

Bob was also instrumental in the 1970s for getting funding for the then Midtown East Side Human Resource Center, currently the Bartlett Center. He was also a successful businessman with a heart for community and people. I admired his warm, confident nature.

Bob told me once he wanted to get a statue built showing then President Barack Obama accepting the presidential baton from Abraham Lincoln. He could not get enough local support for that dream, he said.

The year beginning the decade has been brutal so far but we still have heroes among us, including health-care workers and ourselves for weathering the pandemic and its challenges.

We have the blueprint for survival and success from the lessons and examples of those who went before us.

Alonzo Weston can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWeston.

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