P&L District President Jon Stephens

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Ed’s Note: Power & Light District President Jon Stephens took about 20 minutes of his day to chat with me via phone. I met with him in person later. This letter is taken from what I said to him on the phone, via e-mail and in person.

Dear Mr. Jon Stephens,

Thanks for giving me a few minutes of your time today. I called you just after I listened to a KC radio personality’s on-air conversation with you. I also read The Kansas City Star’s and The Pitch’s work concerning the issue. Even chatted with a television station reporter or two.

After listening and reading, there were still a few things that concerned me. That’s why I called you. That’s why I e-mailed you. That’s why I’m writing this open letter to you.

You were quoted in both The Star and The Pitch as saying that The Power & Light District promotes diversity. I think I explained that “diversity” fairly well in the previous open letter. And as I said to you, it’s exclusive concerning blacks.

A section of the mural outside of the Power & Light designed by Alexander Austin. It stretches across two buildinds. This piece is flanked by the likenesses of two Kansas City legends, jazz icon Charlie "Bird" Parker and Negro Leagues great Satchel Paige.

A section of the mural outside of the Power & Light designed by Alexander Austin. It stretches across two buildinds. This piece is flanked by the likenesses of two Kansas City legends, jazz icon Charlie "Bird" Parker and Negro Leagues great Satchel Paige.

There’s nothing in the tax-payer funded Power & Light that remotely caters to an urban a black audience. This may be overt or covert, but the “separate but equal” clause supposedly went out the window nearly 40 years ago.

Since the P&L opened last year, there has been nothing remotely close to what transpired for 30 minutes on Saturday night. If I’m not mistaken, that was your biggest crowd. By that, I mean that there have been no results from any effort to make black people feel welcome in the P&L — including the dress code.

Hosting a gospel concert on Sunday was a step in the right direction (yes, I attended for an hour. No, I didn’t buy anything). Bringing in DJ Jazzy Jeff was as well.

But we took five steps back after Saturday night’s debacle. I’ve talked to Jeff’s manager. I’ve talked to you. And I’ve talked to other P&L employees close enough to the situation to know that there was more going on than just “output levels in the red” that might blow the system. Something was said that made DJ Jazzy Jeff, MC Skillz and Co. pack up and leave. Period.

No DJ legend walks away from a set specifically because of issues with output levels being “too high.” We get that, and we’re beyond it.

As I said yesterday, a boycott won’t work. That link explains why.

The question now is what will The Power & Light District do to rectify the perceived problem? You’ve said that the P&L is about “diversity.”

Well, your convictions will crucify your own mouth’s contradictions. And right now, The P&L is looking real unfamiliar (~Riley Freeman) like Jim Caviezel. In cliched terms, your actions will speak louder than your words.

Please prove that diversity to be inclusive of Kansas City’s black and urban cores. That same environment — with break dancers and people reciting the lyrics to Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin” and Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend” — is feasible. You just have to make it happen. Please prove that doesn’t just mean we can look at the murals of Charlie “Bird” Parker, Satchel Paige and others great black Kansas Citians that sit on the OUTSIDE of buildings on the P&L’s south end.

It’s apparent that we will come out and play nice. There are several great hip hop DJs in Kansas City who could bring a similar atmosphere to the P&L’s KC Live. You just have to give us that chance.

When you do, you’ll learn that, although we may be different, we have a lot in common. Today I learned that you and I both have to go outside to talk on our cell phones at times because the reception is horrible thanks to a certain company. We share an alma mater and a similar disdain for a certain school in Lawrence, Kan. And we are both proud Kansas Citians, tried and true blue or red, depending on the the season.

Let’s make it so that the rest of the world can understand why we love KC. Moreover, let’s make it so that the people who live here now have justifiable reason to boast about it, and not just shake their heads in disgust after incidents like Saturday night’s.

Again, thanks for sharing your time and thoughts.

Sincerely yours,


P.S. This is technically my first “Dear John” letter on this blog. Kind of ironic, huh?
P.P.S. Another song I wanted to hear Saturday night: DJ Jazzy Jeff & Raheem Devaughn’s “My Soul’s Not 4 Sale.”

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47 responses to “P&L District President Jon Stephens

  1. I’m so glad you got to talk to him — I hope he really heard you.

    I’m interested to see what people have to say now…

    • @asmith: Like I told you earlier. He was a nice guy. I hope he heard me, too. I’ve got a simple idea that I’m going to put on him in the next day or two … he’s definitely open to what I have to say, which is good.

    • Im a 47 YO white male. I have witnessed the racism at Power & light first hand. I watched a black male with a white collarless shirt looking extremely clean and stylish turned away while the 400 pund white behemoth next to me with his fat belly hanging out, butt crack sticking out the back of his jeans and holes inhis tennis walk right in. It is clear P&L is not diverse. I love going here to hang out but Im gettign a very uneasy felling about the comapny I keep. It is time to rise up, be heard, be peaceful and carry the message thatthis is America. This is the 21st century. As a white male I am embarrased for our city. If the government wont step up. The people must step in. Make your voices heard. Call Cordish, call the businesses located here. Call the mayor. Tell everyone of the injustice. get the word out. get involved. make a difference.

  2. thanks for sitting down and meeting with the head of kcpl, i was in constent wonder what there response/press release was going to be, you are correct we should not just boycott because our money is already being spent so we might as well enjoy the perks, diversity of the establishment is what needs to be done how, i don’t have the answers but putting local hip hop dj’s in there urabn night club “mosaic” would be a great start… thanks again sir…

  3. oh yeah and “My souls not 4 sale” classic…

  4. please explain for an out of towner… what exactly is the KCP&L. Is it like Chelsea Pier for NYCers?

    • @belle: It’s a district with 45 restaurants, shops, bars and lounges in the heart of downtown Kansas City.

      It’s across from The Sprint Center, which plays host to major concerts, NCAA tournament games, etc.

      Both have been constructed over recent years, and were completed within the last two, in hopes of revitalizing downtown Kansas City. Honestly, it’s done the trick. People are downtown again.

      But not too many blacks because there’s little in there that caters to them, as explained in the letter to Jeff and the P&L and in this one. There’s a huge outdoor “living room” type area enclosed within a block with several establishments within the block. It’s called KC LIVE, and it plays host to some concerts and popular DJs. DJ AM has been here a few times. But of the 12 or so establishments inside the area, none of them play anything remotely close to hip hop, R&B or jazz on a CONSISTENT basis. But all other forms of music are played consistently.

      Hope this suffices.

      • I guess you have never walked in TENGO Sed Cantina. That place plays 80% hip hop. I CALL BULLSHIT ON YOU!! Stop making this a RACE issue!! Good lord. But i guess you only want to see what you want to see.

        • @DEADWRONG: Actually, I was at Tengo Sed Cantina on Friday night with about 10 friends for their “Power hour”-like event. Paid $12. … Couldn’t find seats for like an hour… and didn’t hear one hip hop song in the time we were there …

          Best part of being there? Watching SportsCenter’s Top 10 without the sound.

        • @DEADWRONG

          It’s not a race issue. I am a DJ and sol cantina has a shitty DJ that has to stick to a playlist and not stray from that playlist weekend after weekend. The KC Live DJ at the top of the stairs has a playlist that he has to stick to as well….Whitney Houston…I wanna love somebody isn’t hip hop but Sol Cantina is actually a cool place to hangout when it isn’t too pack.

  5. I just listened to ‘My Soul’s Not 4 Sale’ at the gym today. Sometimes I listen to it in my car on repeat. Absolute classic….too bad you didn’t get to hear it.

  6. Great follow-through on this Damon – looking forward to seeing your idea for Cordish.

    One thing I’d like to see your thoughts on is creating a hip-hop club that is the type of place you describe, but one that doesn’t attract the type of violence other similar clubs in Kansas City have (America’s Pub, Kabal, Skybox, Grand Emporium, NV). I think that’s what caused Cordish to avoid having one in KC Live! and what’s causing the problem with the new Element Lounge in the Crossroads. It’s a racial thing for sure, but that’s not the only thing – there’s some history to complicate the issue.

    How would you go about that? Because I think that’s the hurdle that needs to be crossed in KC. Thanks.

    • @kyle: I’ve gotta think this thru. I’ll respond shortly, and let you know what I think. I posed the question on Twitter, hopefully some people will come here with potential solutions.

      • I agree with your post Damon. I am native of Chicago and I recently moved to the KC area a little over a year ago.

        Now let’s keep it real(the only way you can get a resolution). Kansas City’s urban venues that play hip hop are screwed up. They open these new clubs up(I will not say any names). The clubs then began to market to the urban young professional about how lavish the club is and how sophisticated sexy people will and attend this club. What happens months later, they lower the standards of the dress code because people flash $40 in the bouncers face causing the environment of the club to downward spiral in the ongoing months. This causes the young professional not to want to frequent those clubs leaving promoters and club owners marketing to anyone and everybody to come to those clubs resulting in people causing those places “hood spots”.

        Coming from the Chi I have yet to see places that play hip hop where blacks, whites, and other races go and don’t have to worry about each other in the means of personal safety or racial issues.

        Why isn’t that the most sexiest and sophisticated event for black urbanites in KC is First Friday’s and that’s hosted at a Freak’n Hotel damn near every month and not a club or lounge. FF’s is drama free, but club owners think we are risk and some venues just have a bad reputation of violence and conflict.

        What you should propose to Mr. Stephens:

        1. Let some of the top urban promoters host a night @ Mosaic on a Wednesday or Thursday every other week and see how it turns out.

        2. Let DJ Lights Out, DJ Sun-Up Jones, DJ Q, and maybe myself Dj one night out of the week @ a mosaic or @ McFaddens or @ Tengo.

        Here is the catch. The dress code will still be in place like it has always been. If you are black or white and improperly dressed you don’t get in. In return you won’t get black people complaining about being discriminated against and white people saying we are playing the race card.

        It promotes diversity where there is a particular place to go to listen to hip hop and be in a sexy & safe environment and be around people that necessarily don’t have the same color skin has yourself but have a musical preference in common.

        Oh and guess what? If you want to enjoy hip hop and indulge in the alcoholic beverages at these venues you have to be willing to lay $7-$10 for a drink, so this will still target whomever(black or white) who can afford, and I personally can’t week after week.

  7. Awesome job damon! I am soo proud of you!!! Cant wait to see what comes of all your passion and hard work!!

  8. How about this… instead of doing all this blogging and running our mouths…let’s do something about this mess. Not going to the KCP&L District is what they want. Let’s take it back to the days of the Civil Rights Era…we can organize and in mass numbers go there one Saturday night and protest. Let’s get our community involved and stand up against this racism. Looking at the comments from the local news websites in response to this situation, they just think we are pulling the “race card”. They feel that way because all we do is complain, and don’t do anything collectively about our situation. People we have to do better than just run our mouths. Is anyone willing to do this? Let me know and we can get something together.

    • @kendra: just sit tight. I’ve got a better idea than trying to boycott. At first I thought a sit-in might be necessary. But … there’s a better way …

      Just give me a few. I’m in the President’s ear, and he’s listening.

  9. @kendra I agree with you. At this point we need to take action and we can definitely get community support on this issue in order to make a public display effective and meaningful to Cordish’s “bottom line”. I’ll wait to see what Damon’s plan is, however if the President isn’t willing to make some major changes then we will have to create change.
    In addition to whatever changes they make at the district they also need to issue a public apology and recognize that what they are doing is racist. I’m sick of hearing Mr. Stephans’ sugar coated responses talking about “we are diverse” “we have the Peach Tree” – is he serious!? Be real!

  10. I must agree with Kendra. As I heard about the debacle on the airwaves, on the net and in the streets, I experienced a lot of emotions. I experienced anger, hurt, disdain for the Cordish Company and the KCP&L district.

    It reminded me of how (this is not to slander Westport, the Kansas City Police Department, America’s Pub, or any other establishment mentioned in this response, but to share with you my personal experiences) Westport use to treat blacks when Westport was the only game in town. The police who were hired to protect ALL individuals in the Kansas City area seem to look past the many sloppy drunk Whites and people of other ethnic groups who were loud and offensive, but would harass, tackle and arrest a Black person for walking in the street. It’s funny though; how the P&L district has taken a lot of Westport’s business and now they gladly invite Blacks to come in. I have never heard of America’s Pub having a Hip Hop night (predominately BLACK crowd) until recently, how crazy is that?

    I must agree with Kendra that we must do more than talk, chat, blog. Now, I am not saying that we should at this point protest or even sit in. But, what I am saying is we should meet, organize and follow-through with impactful action that will bring about affirmative change in the way Blacks and other ethnic groups are treated by the Cordish Company , in the Power & Light District, the police department and other establishments.

    I think it’s important that we review the civil rights movement and implement some of the peaceful but powerful forms of protest they used. Talking to the president of KCP&L is great, but will it make a lasting impact? Or will they simply do something to cover the issue, please those who are upset and then 2 months later no true progress has been made?

    I was also at the Gospel Festival and even though it was a predominately Black audience, there were people of other ethnicities there. But, we forget that Gospel Music is not necessarily a representation of “Black” people. Gospel music is music that spreads the Gospel (the Word of GOD)! Gospel music can be country Gospel, Southern Gospel, the list goes on. So, to say that they hosted a “Gospel” concert doesn’t denote and issue of race, it notes that they included religion and Christian beliefs in the realm of their KC Live entertainment schedule.

    Maybe we can start by finding out who represents the districts, write to them about these issues and mandate action to change. Write to the Mayor of Kansas City, he may not be concerned but at least we are effectively communicating with the individuals who represent us in government. We need to bombard any government official (city, county, state, whoever) that can possibly help bring about change with letters, phone calls, and emails. Then maybe a community meeting, not a rally but an organized meeting to discuss how to really attack and resolve the issues at hand.

    I believe in Diversity, I am an advocate and I don’t want to make everything about black and white. However, I am a HUMAN who just happens to be a proud Black female (which is only one layer of my diversity) a HUMAN who believes that all HUMANS have rights that should not be violated. To be real, did P&L have a Cinco de Mayo celebration? I am just saying if they didn’t or don’t cater to Latinos and Hispanics then that would be another issue for us to explore. God Bless!

    • Brandy, yes you are so right about how Westport used to treat blacks…until they started losing their “white” business to KCPL! Americas Pub straight didn’t want blacks in their establishment, and the police profiled all night long. Sorry to say, but that is what the Westport spots get for showing their tails. I just recently heard it was a “hip hop” joint and I was shocked. Now they are reaching to keep the little money they are making in their pockets: trying to cater to the blacks and capitalize on the fact that KCPL dist. won’t let blacks in, and they are trying to get their liquor licenses changed to compete with KCPL liq licenses. They get it everytime…they should have learned that our people are God’s children, and their greed and racist ways always seems to come and bite them in their tails!

  11. I urge all Djs and musicians to boycott The White Power & Light District.
    These issues should not go unpunished!

  12. Boycotts are symbolic only, these days. Boycotting rarely works.

    The bus boycotts of the 60s worked because the majority of patrons were black. They’re not letting black folks patronize them as it is, boycotting won’t hurt their pockets like it hurt the Montgomery Bus system. In fact, it may help if folks think there won’t be (what they incorrectly percieve as riff raff) there.

    Additionally, also remember that there were SIT-INs during that time as well. People went where they WEREN’T wanted and left where they were to make their point.

    Guys, we have to understand what the boycotts were about and why they worked. We can’t just go do things because it sounds right. They organized boycotts for bus systems and sit-ins for lunch counters because it made sense, not because it sounded good (hell, it sounded anything BUT good at the time)

    • I agree partially but I strongly believe we can make this work. We would have to design a boycott in a way that would make the public and Cordish pay attention. If their business is effected they’ll pay attention. What won’t work is doing nothing. Like I said before I’ll wait to see what Damon’s plan is, if that doesn’t work then Plan B is being worked on.

  13. that song is my joint.

  14. @damon: I’m proud of you for sticking with this and seeing it through. Too often people are outraged about something but after a day or two, they cool down and let it slide or grow tired of & frustrated with trying to make things right. The meeting with P&L District President Stephens is definitely a strong step in the right direction.

  15. I guess it’s so quiet around here now because there is actually some action being taken. People like to blow hot air when they think that nothing but talking is being done. Good move my friend.

  16. Damon,

    I’m so glad you had the chance to speak to Jon Stephens. Whether he is sincere about diversity in P&L remains to be seen.

    At any rate, you’ve done a fab job. We may be off to a great start here. I’ve got your back!

  17. natural nubian

    impressive damon. the internet is indeed a powerful force to be reckoned with. not sure how you got in touch with prez stephens but kudos for the efforts. def keep us posted in the progress. i have faith in you.

  18. This is a strong, impassioned letter here. The point is certainly taken on my end and I’m confident it was on his [John] too.

    I’m not familiar with KC. At all! But I think I may have to venture over that way to capture the whole gamut of what you’re saying here, Damon. Again: great argument and good luck with the follow-up to this follow-up. lol

  19. I’m glad you were able to speak with him. Like I was mentioning earlier, we need to do something about this. It doesn’t look like they will change. We need a movement or something. I would say boycott but that is what they want. And like I mentioned in my blog, where would we be if those influential African Americans didn’t go somewhere because they weren’t wanted or decide to do something they weren’t allowed to do? Something needs to be done.

  20. Props. My concern is not so much that he heard you, but is he listening?

    There’s a sidebar in the Star today …”9 of the 12 high-end drivers of the sound system were permanently damaged.” And how P&L would happily have JJ back as often as his schedule will allow. hmmmm.

  21. LOL @ folks who wanna go off and start protesting and marching.

    I would like to suggest that we black folks exercise some emotional discipline and not run off and start boycottong and protesting and yelling because that is what they expect us to do. The Civil Rights Movement strategies (marching, boycotting, sitting in) were effective during the time they were implemented. It is 50 years later and we need some new ideas.

    Damon, I look forward to seeing what your ideas are on how to make a strong statement on this without falling back on our usual tricks.

    • thecomebackgirl

      ” It is 50 years later and we need some new ideas.”

      I agree with this too…I dated a guy who worked in the KC area for years. And he talked about buying something residential a few years ago before the “resurgence”…i mean what about putting our money where are mouths are.

      if there are areas that aren’t well populated by us…the trendy parts (that were once not so trendy) then why do we always wait for someone else to tell its ok to live in our “gentrified” cities and towns”. Why cant we ride the beginning of the wave?

    • Okay “Senorita Killin You Hoes”, I wasn’t talking about doing exactly what was done it the civil rights era, but if the shoe fits…then we should try it. Also, I didn’t make any mention about going there and shouting etc…protesting can be silent with out all the noise. So if you think that using a tactic that worked in the past (the very same tactics that has brought us atleast this far), then what are some of YOUR bright ideas. You don’t have to wait on Damon to put your thoughts out here. And I don’t know about you “senorita killin you hoes”, but I work and my tax dollars go to that KCPL whether or not they are willing to let me in. What they are doing down there is straight discriminating on our people. Also, they do not expect us to do anything because that is why they are picking and choosing which “nigger” they are going to let in. We need to do something and don’t let this go by the way side. This is not “their” world anymore, so somebody need to make them recognize!

  22. Good Job Damon! I am proud that you have confronted this situation and that hopefully some change will come from what you have done.

  23. thecomebackgirl

    Great job regarding the meeting and getting the word out. I feel a little displaced in the conversation because I don’t really know the area..but kudos.

  24. I’m trying not to take sides on this issue yet because I don’t know enough of the facts. However, this is a live recording of the concert. I don’t know about permanent damage to the speakers, but something is obviously wrong with the sound here.


    • Jason, you cannot go by the sound on this video feed. It is not going to streamed to the quality of the real sound that was there. From what I understand from those that I know that were there, the performer after Jazzy had the music up just as loud.

  25. Bishop Tolbert and Victorious Life Church held a gospel concert down there less than 24 hours after the DJJJ incident and I personally went down there to see for myself if there was a problem with the sound like Cordish lied and claimed it was. If Jeff blew out nine speakers the preveious night, they got some replacements awfully fast for Tolbert’s concert the very next day. Tolbert got put on the payroll during the dress code ordinance issue. They used Tolbert to make it look like they embrace diversity and he used them to get money to sponsor his gospel concert last Sunday and his Lifechangers conference at Bartle Hall next month.

    There are 3 different versions of why the show was stopped: sound issues, content issues and now they claim Jeff’s hype man Skillz is to blame for everything. Skillz should sue Cordish for libel and slander and so should Jeff for trying to dragging his 25-year, clean-cut rap rep through the mud with this lie:

    Local comedian Bobby J was on Hot 103 saying that he will protest at the Power and Light District Saturday at 5pm. Please come out and support this brother in opposition of the antics that has been going on at this place for the past two years. Power is in numbers and people of all races who disagree with the divisive and discriminatory practices of Cordish should come out and represent this weekend.

    • Thanks! I will be there! I just hope all the local peeps that have been blogging on this matter show up as well. This is very important. Time to show and prove!

  26. Your writing style is atrocious. You’re not exactly putting yourself in the best light. I especially notice how little factual information has been presented by you, merely opinions and hearsay (at best).

    Everything I’ve seen about this whole story is that the event was caused by mutual misunderstandings that got out of hand (fueled by twitter). And the fact that everyone wants to hate P&L.

    And believe me, I understand why people want to hate the place. I live in Westport and see how differently the city treats one entertainment district over another.

    • @vert: Your opinion is appreciated. But trust that I know what I’m doing. Trust that I have facts from both sides, from newspaper stories, television stories … but more importantly from speaking with the people like Mr. Stephens and Jeff’s manager.

      I also have my own firsthand account, and plenty of others from which to work. I also have common sense.

      I do not hate the P&L. I just want Mr. Stephens and others to be accountable for their words. If they say that they’re diverse, they must prove it.

      If you can’t find that in what I wrote, maybe you need to jump because it’s going over your head.

      Wishing you’d have left a real e-mail address …

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