Dr. Kaye Whitehead is a professor, radio show host, #BlackMommyActivist, founding director of the Karson Institute for Race, Peace and Social Justice and overall leader in the Baltimore community. (Courtesy photo)

By Rev. Dorothy Scott Boulware
AFRO Managing Editor

The thing about Dr. Kaye, as she knows, is that, when asked about important things she’s accomplished, she lowers her head in a manner that might suggest shyness or a reluctance to talk about herself.

Anyone who knows her knows that’s not the case.

She really lowers her head in reverence and humility because she knows what an honor it is to serve in ways that reach the heart of the server and the served.

From her father’s mother in Lexington, S.C., who offered a then-unrecognized glimpse of land wealth and privilege, to her mother’s mother, who put bell hooks in one hand and a microphone in the other to remind the future professor to use her voice and not allow herself to be silenced. Not even by her parents. “If they won’t listen, write it down.”

This granddaughter is a mystical outcome of generations of Black wealth and wisdom, who communicated to their children and grandchildren, loudly enough that current generations can hear when the effort to teach is tantamount.

It is for this reason that Dr. Karsonya “Kaye” Wise Whitehead, founding director of The Karson Institute for Race, Peace and Social Justice at Loyola, has been chosen by the AFRO as one of its two Baltimore Newsmakers for 2021.

Body, mind and soul, she seeks to serve with excellence.

“I begin my day at 4:30 with a workout with Chauncey “the Trainer” (Whitehead, no relation). It gets me energized and poised to be creative the entire day.”

She also writes during those early morning hours and makes plans, courtesy of a stop at Starbucks.

“Few people are there so early, and I can hear and see clearly.”

Her fondest achievement is her marriage of 23 years and the two sons and (bonus) daughter she shares with her husband, Johnnie.  

“I wasn’t sure I even wanted to be married and now I can’t imagine my life without my family.”

And in these “empty nest” hours, with both sons away in college, the self-termed #Blackmommyactivist longs for them and thinks about the sons from other mothers who also belong to her.

Such as Michael.

She met him during her 2019 “hello” Facebook challenge. She’d speak to the children as they passed her house on the way to school. They wouldn’t return her greeting. Not the first day. Not the second day. But on the third day, Michael said, “Good morning.”

Dr. Kaye said she founded the Karson Institute for Race, Peace and Social Justice to “create a place where generations coming after us could talk it out.” (Courtesy photo)

And on the fourth day, Michael brought friends he’d instructed to also say, “Good morning.” 

And she found they didn’t have gloves or scarves. And she went to the school to thank Michael and took copies of 1619 for every student.

She’s now in partnership with City Neighbors School, spending time with teachers every week.

And it became a thing. And they were intertwined in the experiment that motivated the “Good morning,” Maya Angelou suggested in her 1993 poem, “On the Pulse of Morning.”

Of course, her most recent gift to her father, Bishop Carson E. Wise Sr., is the institute that bears his name. When she broke the news to him, she encountered an unusual response.

“He’s a pastor bishop and rarely ever speechless. But he was at that moment,” Dr. Kay said. “He couldn’t believe I was honoring him in this way. He’s big on tradition and giving people their flowers while they are with us.”

And she says it goes beyond merely honoring her father, but speaks to the nameless, faceless people who’ve done the work to hold us up.

“We need to start naming things for the people who’ve invested in us. The fathers, the grandmothers, the aunts and uncles. We need to put their names on our institutions.”

The purpose of the institution is to promote conversation.

“There won’t always be race problems, at least I hope not, but there will always be people seeking peace and justice in our world,” she said.

“I wanted to create a place where generations coming after us could talk it out.”

And just as her father instructed, she has created the job she always wanted.

“I’ll be able to work solely as executive director at least until 2025 when I return to the classroom.

And she fights for justice on Today with Dr. Kaye, 2 p.m., Monday through Friday, on Morgan State University’s radio station, WEAA FM. She talks about all those things that make people who love Baltimore a little crazy. 

She helps people understand things they can do to improve the community of Baltimore.

  1. Adopt a local school. See what resources teachers and students need. Give time and supplies.
  2. Attend community association meetings. Meet your councilperson. Pick up the trash. Stay aware.
  3. Know who’s directly involved in determining the direction of Baltimore City.

“Let’s talk solutions. Let’s come to the kitchen table.”

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