Columbia to rightfully honor three giants of Civil Rights progress

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, May 4, 2018

In a well-deserved and appropriate tribute to three native Columbians who are nearly legends of this town’s racial progress, the Parks and Recreation Department will dedicate the Wynna Faye Tapp-Elbert Memorial Amphitheater and the John and Rod Kelly Baseball Field on May 12. It is well earned.

Douglas Park, once just the playground around Douglas School and the pool, and built in the 1930s with a federal public works grant, was renovated and upgraded in the 1990s and was most recently improved with a skateboard park along Fifth Street that opened last fall.

Wynna Faye, who died in 2014, was a thirty-year employee of the Parks and Recreation Department. Among her many community activities were the Missouri Ethnic Minority Society and Judicial Law Enforcement Task Force. She was the founder of the Frederick Douglass Coalition, NAACP and the J.W. “Blind” Boone Heritage Foundation Board. She hosted a local public affairs radio program on KOPN, on which I appeared twice in about 2000. I remember her as warm and engaging and very knowledgeable about Columbia and local events.

John and Rod Kelly, the “Douglas Park baseball brothers,” started the Douglas Baseball program in 1996, providing an opportunity for kids aged 5-10, boys and girls, black and white, to enjoy non-competitive baseball. The program, which is still running today, is also an opportunity for black and white kids to see black and white coaches, umpires and organization leaders work together cooperatively.

But the Kelly brothers’ participation in sports and efforts to see that all kids get a chance to play and stay out of trouble began long before that. John retired as Assistant Principal and Athletic Director at Hickman High School in 1997. Rod, eight years younger, worked at Shelter Insurance, Mizzou Athletics and Columbia Public Schools, but may be best known for being the voice of Missouri basketball from the days of “Willie Smith to Doug Smith.” They played baseball at the Douglas playground, as it was called in their youth, and later umpired for Bill Clark, who was the local guru of sports organizing and promoting. Rod aspired to play basketball at the collegiate level, but an injury choose another path for him, pointing him in the direction of broadcasting that ultimately resulted in his being the voice of Mizzou basketball from “Willie Smith to Doug Smith” (from 1976-1991).

John Kelly recalls Faye, as she was called, from their days in the 1950s at Douglas School and recalls attending NAACP meetings with her at Sarabell Jackson’s house while in high school. He collaborated with Faye when he was a counselor at Hickman and she at the Parks and Recreation Department in providing special field trips for students who earned them to “keep them on the right path.” The city provided transportation and Kelly freed up teachers on Friday afternoons to prepare their lessons and attend meetings.

John credits Faye for proposing the baseball program at Douglas Park. Faye had developed the reputation for intervening with kids who were looking for trouble. She asked the Kelly’s to start up an affordable league for kids in the neighborhood. The program now has an active executive board, the Douglas Athletic Association, and charges kids $27 per season to participate. Some partial scholarships are available. They usually have three leagues (5-6 year olds, 7-8, and 9-10), playing a 10-game schedule.

John’s love of baseball and his manner of speaking about learning about race is contagious and full of kindness. When he was about five, he listened to the Cardinals on the radio and recalls the hoopla surrounding Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers in 1947. John says he didn’t know that it was about race until later, but knew it was something notable. He began collecting Dodgers paraphernalia and went to a Dodgers-Cardinals game in 1951. His parents personally obtained Robinson’s autograph on a Cardinals program, which hangs in Kelly’s office today.

Whether the Kellys are recollecting their boyhood adventures at the Douglas playground, their family’s struggle to find a contractor to build a black family a house, their racial isolation at Mizzou or the discipline and sense of community they acquired while growing up in the Douglas neighborhood, they project a dignity like that of Jackie Robinson. The Kellys used sports to build teamwork and to further youth integration in an epoch of racial strife.

The Tapps and the Kellys are pioneers of racial progress in Columbia. The Wynna Faye Tapp-Elbert Memorial Amphitheater and John and Rod Kelly Baseball Field in Douglas Park will be permanent markers of their efforts and successes in nurturing community in Columbia. The dedication is next Saturday, May 12 at 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., respectively, at Douglas Park.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994.

Melissa Carr’s retirement marks end of career for exemplary public servant


January 9, 2018

David Webber

Melissa Carr, presently the Director of the Danial Boone Regional Library, will retire next week after 46 years of service to our libraries, 21 years as director. Mid-Missouri was fortunate to have her all these years.

Melissa is an exemplary public servant whose likes we probably will not see again — not only in public libraries, but in education, social services and across many institutions of our society. Combined with the loss of local ownership of the Tribune, the sale of MBS, and rapid turnover of University of Missouri System and MU administrators, it feels like the passing of a generational torch.

Show me a leader in higher education, health care or public corporations who is likely to serve as the head of her organizations for the next 21 years. If Melissa had been a collegiate sports coach, we would name a sports facility after her.

It was my responsibility and pleasure to serve on the Daniel Boone Regional Library Board of Trustees from 2005-2013. From that vantage point, I observed Melissa through countless committee meetings, full board meetings, public functions and personal conversations. The board of trustees consisted of 19 appointed individuals with different personalities, familiarity with a public organization, verbal skills and inclinations to use them, and level of involvement in board decisions. Melissa could relate to all of them.

I served on the evaluation, finance and strategic planning committees watching Melissa interact with staff, other board members and the public. Melissa was always prepared, focused and patient. Over the years, I have heard many board members describe and comment about her integrity, her work habits, and her knowledge of library operations, library law, property tax levies and health care insurance.

Melissa, as everyone calls her, has a sixth sense for human relations. Several times I observed her gently nudging a stubborn, obstructionist board member along toward making a group decision. In one of my early years on the board, I met privately with her suggesting she take a stronger, quicker hand similar to what I observed by many public administrators. Her response was “David, I’ve tried it that way and it works out better if we take more time and let everybody be involved.” Repeatedly I found that Melissa could always give good reasons for her decisions.

Melissa was expert at keeping in touch with four different groups of people: her staff, the mid-Missouri public, local and state public officials and the national American library network. Professional positions at the local library did not become vacant very often. Melissa has a loyal and committed staff whose skills she uses and opinion she listens to. Melissa has won awards from local groups and the American Library Association. She always comes through.

Melissa was director of the library during an era of extraordinary change. Among these were re-opening of the Columbia library, building the Ashland branch, adding satellite lockers and drop boxes around two counties, and transitioning into the information technology age with ebooks and databases rather than just good ole books.


In the eight years I served on the library board, the trait that I kept noticing about Melissa was her openness to change in order to improve the library. Watching Melissa figuring out how to fund the Ashland branch and dealing with individual patron concerns was rather inspiring. The Daniel Boone Regional Library is an excellent organization devoted to improving library services to a diverse and changing population. Appropriately, one of her last achievements is the merging of the Boone County library district with the city of Columbia district. Few citizens will notice this legalistic change but it will streamline library governance, making library boundaries conform to the growing Columbia metro area. Melissa could have easily kicked this issue  down the road, passing it on to a future library director.

Melissa faced, and survived, several library and family health challenges. When she became director in 1996, she not only succeeded two icons of local library service — Virginia Young and Gene Taylor — but faced several board members skeptical about her selection. A few years later a proposal to expand library facilities was defeated at the polls. Melissa led the library in taking a step back, conducting a deep survey of public preferences, and launching a strategic plan that expanded services using present resources.

About five years ago, Melissa spoke to my MU senior capstone class of students who were getting ready to graduate. A student asked what was the most important trait for new employees to develop. Melissa told them “be a team player — do your part and share the credit.” This is the best single description of Melissa’s approach.

It’s a Traffic Jungle Out There

DAVID WEBBER: It’s a traffic jungle out there


Daily driving has gotten tougher over the past decade or two. More round-abouts to contend with, J-turns on Highway 63, U-turns confusion at any time, more bicyclists on the streets, sitting behind texting drivers waiting to turn left at a busy intersection and the light turns amber. Here in Columbia, the City Council will soon consider an ordinance to ban texting while driving by all drivers, not just those under 21 or commercial drivers as is the current ordinance. This is a necessary, but insufficient, to make Columbia’s roads safer and less stressful.

Forty-seven states ban texting while driving, all but five have primary enforcement, allowing officers to issue a citation when they see a driver texting regardless of other infractions. Missouri is not one of them, choosing instead to ban texting for drivers under 21.

In the Midwest, driving is essential to most people’s lives. For some, it is joy and escape, for others it is stress and anxiety. As the population grows so do the number of registered vehicles to nearly 270 million. Increased economic development may mean more jobs, but it also means more vehicles with more drivers. More of these drivers have cell phones, some use them while driving despite knowing it is not a wise social practice. We may have smartphones but we have a lot of not so many smart drivers. The American fatality rate is 40 percent higher than Canada and Australia. Americans still drive too fast and too many still resist seat belts.

With two decades worth of data, the facts support prohibiting cell use while driving. One insurance company estimated that in 2010 more than two-thirds of drivers use cell phones. A California Highway patrol study found that about 10 percent of drivers are using cell phones at any time. The National Highway Safety Administration reports that more than 3,000 fatalities in 2015 were due to distracted driving. That’s about 10 percent of all traffic fatalities.

Individuals who drive while sending or reading text messages are 23 more times likely to be involved in a car crash than other drivers. A crash typically happens within an average of three seconds after a driver is distracted.

Modern information technology can be tools for solving the problems it created. Two websites are useful for discouraging texting while driving. offers a pledge that you, the driver, will put your phone down while driving. The site also provides educational materials including a realistic simulation demonstrating the impact of distracted driving. is a mobile application that reads text messages and emails aloud in real time and automatically responds without drivers touching their cellphone.

My own informal observation of local drivers is that a lot more than 10 percent use cellphones while driving. My eyes see that closer to 25 percent of drivers who pass through Stadium and Broadway are actively using a cellphone and that at least that many have a cellphone on the seat or console ready to go, if needed. There has been an epidemic of cellphone users and it is not limited to drivers 21 and under. In fact, I would venture that 21 and under drivers are probably no riskier than are older drivers.

The chief consequence of text while driving is distracted driving. Despite our desire to make it so, multi-tasking is a myth. The brain cannot not competently handle many tasks at once. A distraction is interrupted thought. Failure to see an object or another vehicle is a textbook example of distracted driving.

Driving patterns have changed over the past decade — most likely due to cellphones. Failure to signal, delayed passage through left hand-turns and four-way stops, and hogging the left lane are widespread driving practices due to cellphones. It is common practice, i.e. more than half, for vehicles leaving the University hospital or the MU sports complex via Stadium towards the Mall to go immediately into the left lane and stay there until they exit at Broadway, the mall or I-70. They prefer the left lane because it gives them more flexibility while checking their cellphone.

Running on city streets has become more hazardous as well. Running in the bike lane toward traffic is dangerous because of the vehicles that straddle the bike lane so the driver has a buffer on both sides. Similarly, running in subdivisions is dangerous due to the vehicles turning right at a stop sign without ever looking for oncoming runners or pedestrians.

Regulating distracting driving presents several challenges, including deciding between “primary” and “secondary’ enforcement and deciding how much surveillance is appropriate. Designating distracting driving as an illegal driving behavior is a deterrent in itself. Most citizens prefer to comply with the law. A local ordinance will serve as a little nudge to cause drivers to do what they know they should do, i.e. put down their phones and drive more safely.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994.

Campus sex culture meets public policy

David Webber Columbia Missourian Oct 30, 2017

Vanessa Grigoriadis’ “Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power and Consent on Campus” is the most thought-provoking book I have read this year — not because of its tales of sexual encounters (although it is a bit shocking to readers over 50) but because it is a street-level report from a political and social revolution in progress.

Grigoriadis’ approach is to understand and solve a problem rather than engage in rhetorical warfare. She artfully shows the importance of language, ideology and culture in shaping public opinion and public policy. She argues that most cases of college sexual assault are better labeled as “acquaintance assault” rather than “date rape.” The term “sexual assault” itself needs clarification.

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Springsteen Says It Best: What Writing Is Like (for me, too).

Springsteen Says It Best: What Writing Is Like (for me, too).          

               I re-discovered Bruce Springsteen in about 2009 and have enjoyed re-learning about myself by re-considering his old stuff and listening to how he talks, and writes, about his life. In preparing for his upcoming “Bruce on Broadway” he gave a long interview to the New York TIMES where, of all things, he captured what creating writing is like. Continue reading

How I became interested in government and politics

                                How I became interested in government and politics       

  To promote my play “Practicing Democracy” I have given a dozen talks around town to non-academic audiences. The question that has surprised me the most is “Whatever caused you to study politics all your life?” My ears heard a tone of a mixture of disbelief and sympathy, almost like “whatever made you think you could fly like a bird off the top of the state capitol?” Continue reading

Looking for Faith and Fellowship at Chautauqua 2017

Looking for Faith and Fellowship at Chautauqua 2017

                I spent July 8-15, 2017 at the Chautauqua Institution listening to first-class lectures and discussions examining “Is there a Crisis in Faith?”  Chautauqua is a beautiful 740 acres on a lake in western New York, isolated from social reality, opened for nine weeks a year with a different theme each week. It was founded in 1874 to train Methodist Sunday school teachers and has been non-denominational since 1890. It was nationally known before World War II and has hosted several presidential speeches. President Theodore Roosevelt supposedly said that Chautauqua “is the most American thing in America.” One speaker this week said “it is a little slice of heaven” to which someone replied “Heaven will certainly be more diverse.” Alas, the more than 5,000 participants were Christian or Jewish, highly educated, mostly over 50, and . . . white. The speakers were much more diverse. Take a look here: or Continue reading

The Commencement Address I Sorta Gave

Not surprising, I was never invited to give a real,  official commencement address on the Quad or in the basketball arena, so I wrote my own for my capstone seminars in 2002, 2007, and 2010.

Congratulations on completing your college education. You might not think graduating from college is a big deal, I didn’t think so in 1973 either, but your parents and society thinks so. So do I. You are among the top quarter of American society who have either been given, or made the opportunity for,  at least four years of post-high school study.

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