Each year, 12 alumni are selected for inclusion in the Alumni Honor Roll and profiled as Reasons to Believe in the value of education and in the school district. These are individuals whose accomplishments showcase their incredible skills and life stories, highlighting their perseverance, hard work and dedication. Their qualities exemplify to all of us why they are Reasons to Believe and inspirations to many.
Kansas City, Kansas School Foundation for Excellence is proud to announce the 2019 Reasons to Believe Alumni Honorees:
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Amber is a 2009 graduate from Sumner Academy of Arts and Sciences and was a Full International Baccalaureate Diploma Candidate. She holds an A.S. in Liberal Arts-Science from Kansas City Kansas Community College, B.S. in Health Sciences from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and MPH and certificate in Health Education and Promotion from Benedictine University. She has a passion for helping others and that can be seen in both her professional and volunteer work. As a Clinical Trials Coordinator at Children’s Mercy Hospital, she works with Physicians to find innovative ways to reduce barriers to accessing healthcare services and to promote resilience. She was a published contributor on the article “Building a Contextually-Relevant Understanding of Resilience among African American Youth Exposed to Community Violence.” She as a personal mission to want to see equitable opportunities for the community she was raised in. Amber also volunteers regularly with her church (Oak Ridge Missionary Baptist Church), the Community Health Council of Wyandotte County, and is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.,- Kansas City (KS) Alumnae Chapter.
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Ashley Campbell is a life-long Wyandotte County resident. She attended Welborn Elementary School and Northwest Middle School before graduating from F.L. Schlagle High School in 2004.
Ashley has made education a priority and dedicates her life to serving the community and its students. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, master’s in Education from Avila University, and Educational Specialist in Building Leadership from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is a proud member of the Kansas City (KS) Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and a 2020 recipient of the Friends of Yates Black Woman of Distinction Award.
Ashley has worked in the field of education for over ten years; most of which were spent in the KCK Public School District as an athletic coach, school assessment manager, and math teacher. Currently, she serves as the Dean of Students at Arrowhead Middle School; focusing primarily on student discipline infractions. Through her instructional and coaching experience, she has been able to help set goals and build relationships with students struggling with behavioral issues. As a result of her dedication and core beliefs, she started a positive referral program to recognize positive behaviors and character traits in all students. At the end of the day, her goal is to guide students to find the source of their personal greatness, striving to plant and nurture the seeds of success within all those she encounters.
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Alzie Marie Frasure
Alzie Marie Frasure (better known simply as Marie Frasure) is a lifelong resident of Wyandotte County, Kansas City, Kansas. She was educated in Kansas City, Kansas District #500 School district, attending Dunbar North Elementary School, Northeast Junior High School, graduating from Sumner High School in 1963. Since graduating, Marie has earned an Associates of Liberal Arts degree from Kansas City, Kansas Community College, a Bachelor’s of Science in Human Resource Management from Friends University and a Master’s Degree in Management from Baker University School of Professional & Graduate Studies. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Travel and Tourism from Bryan Travel College. In addition she is a Graduate Leadership 2000 – Kansas City, Kansas Chamber of Commerce.
Mrs. Frasure is the wife of James C. Frasure, Jr. Together they have a blended family of five children, fourteen grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.
“My life is and has been dedicated to empowering, children, youth and their families. I have served in many capacities as an advocate for the poor, hungry and homeless. I have had the privilege of speaking for people who do not have a voice to speech for themselves. ”
From 1984 – January, 2017, Marie was the Founder, Architect and driving force behind Mt. Carmel Community Outreach Programs. During her 35 year tenure, she developed, implemented and supervised new program components, recruited, trained and supervised paid staff and up to 80 volunteers; secured funding from public, private and government entities; advocated on behalf of the less fortunate through lobbying local, state and national leaders; assist area residents with basic human needs, i.e. food, clothing, shelter; annual free mammograms with St. Like’s Women Cancer Center and Susan E Komen. In addition, she performs Case Management duties and life skill training for teens, homeless services and at-risk families. Marie has facilitated health fairs which generated more than 100 exhibitors and screeners, attended by over 1,000 participants. Mrs. Frasure has been directly responsible for securing and coordinating multiple mass food distributions for needed families on a regular basis throughout the years. She was directly responsible for production of musical play “Lazarus” which played on five different occasions in the Greater Kansas City area and once at Gaston Theatre on Georgetown University Campus in Washington, D.C., depicting the flight of the poor, homeless, and hungry.
She is currently the Founded and Executive Director of the YIELD Program, YIELD, acronym for Youth Initiatives in Education and Leadership Development is an IRS designated 501 c3 Not for Profit Corporation. YIELD was formed to help facilitate positive youth development in at-risk children and youth through the development and implementation of diverse multifunctional program components; providing exposure experience which includes US and International culture/education travel; sponsors college and career workshops; career and college development; secured funding for the program; mentors young people. Through the YIELD Program, Marie has developed and implemented various mission oriented projects, locally, national and international, Marie has planned, organized, and lead missions trips to Dominican Republic; The Bahamas, London, Bristol, and Wales in England; Cape Town, Soweto and Johannesburg, South Africa; and Ghana, West Africa, as well as locations in the United States. These outreach activities have included and benefited a multitude of children, youth, and adults. 98% of youth who have participated in the program have graduate from high school, or vocational school and have become responsible members of the community. These students have studied issues that affect the world such as debt relief, presenting their views on remedies to Congressman Dennis Moore, Senator Sam Brownback and Senator Pat Roberts while in Washington D.C.
Mrs. Frasure is owner, with her husband of R J Travel Advisors. The agency has global certifications. She manages and operates a full service travel agency; tours and event planning; determines clients' needs and suggesting suitable travel packages, organizes from beginning to end, including tickets, accommodation and transportation, Supplies travelers with pertinent information and useful travel/holiday materials. Organizes memorable and exquisite travel itineraries and vacations for high-level clients, celebrities, politicians, and business executives, Arranges travel accommodations for groups, couples, executives and special needs clients, discusses benefits of and information regarding travel insurance with clients and obtained best rates, which increased repeat business 80%, exceeds customer service satisfaction standards by understanding and anticipating clients' expectations, advises clients on visa, passport and security requirements relating to destinations and confirmed flight details for each reservation, develops loyal clientele base due to excellent listening and research skills and keen understanding of travel budgets, provides exemplary customer service to new and existing clients, which helped build lasting relationships and secure new travel assignments. Marie is also a Certified Autism Travel Professional.
Through the years, Marie Frasure has been very actively involved in the local, national and global arenas. She is an effective advocate for individuals and families that cannot speak for themselves. She currently serves on the Advisory Board for Harvesters Food Network. She a past board past member of Heart of America Hunger Coalition, Wyandotte County Emergency Assistance Coalition, Wyandotte County Homeless Coalition, Her Kansas City Metropolitan community involvement includes: serving as past Board chair of Kansas City Metropolitan Bread for the World Leadership Council, Past member of Heart of America Walk for the Hungry Coordinating Committee and Kansas City Missouri Mayor’s Task Force on Food and Hunger under Mayor Berkeley and Mayor Cleaver. In addition, she has had occasions to interact with Bishop Desmond Tutu, Maki Mandela, and many Ambassadors from various countries.
At the national level, served as past board member of Souper Bowl of Caring. Marie served currently as a long term Board Member - Board for the World (BFW) and the BFW Institute for Hunger Education and Development located in Washington, D.C. Bread for the World is a collective Christian citizen organization urging our nation’s decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad. By changing policies, programs, and conditions that allow hunger and poverty to persist. BFW provides help and opportunities at home and far beyond where we live. Bread works in a bipartisan way. Their network of thousands of individual members, churches, and denominations is active in every congressional district. Ordinary citizens speak the truth to power with a moral and Christian voice and at the right time. And together, the organization goal is building the political will to end hunger and poverty. The committee met work with members of President George H Bush and President Bill Clinton.
In February, 1991, Marie was nominated as a Presidential Point of Light, and received a commendation from President George H. W. Bush - February 21, 1992.
Marie's professionalism and tireless advocacy on numerous legislative initiatives have been very effective. Through the years she have worked with Members of Congress both Democrats and Republicans, at the local, state and national levels in a non-partisan way working with State Representative David Haley, State Representative Valdenia Winn, Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver, Congresswoman Jan Meyers, Congressman Dennis Moore, Senator Nancy Lamdon Kassebaum, Senator Robert Dole, Senator Pat Roberts, Senator Sam Brownback and Congressman Kevin Yoder. She also worked with the House Select Committee on Hunger with then chair U. S, Congressman Mickey Leland and after his death U. S. Congressman Tony Hall.
In 1991, Marie Frasure was one of only eleven people selected from across the United States to serve on the Congressional Advisory Committee on Welfare Simplification and Coordination Committee. The committed was established by Congress itself through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Marie was recruited by Senator Bob Dole to serve as an advocate for the poor on this committee. The committee was established to examine the problems of overlaps, barriers and conflict for people to assess the said problems. The committee held hearings across the United States, along with members of congress, to study methods of simplifying and coordinating government programs that service the poor. The four means-tested programs most important to the national reform debate are Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Food stamps (TANF), supplemental security income (SSI) and Medicaid. Added to these programs was housing. In 1993, the committee members concluded with their “primary recommendations” to “replace the numerous programs that currently serve the needy with one, family-focused, client- oriented, and comprehensive method of service delivery. A detailed written report was presented to full Congress on their findings and offered suggestions to make the programs work together more effective, streamlining guidelines, qualifications and to make programs less punitive.
In 2005, Marie was also one of one hundred people chosen to be U. S. delegates to the One Campaign – Make Hungry History. These delegates traveled to Edinburg, Scotland during the G-8 Summit. Sir Richard Branson provided air transportation through his Virgin Atlantic Airlines. Branson traveled with the delegates along with staff representative from the White House, George Clooney, Bono, Chris Tucker, Black Eye Peas, Djimon Hounsou and many other performers.
Marie is a prolific Speaker. She was a past Keynote Speaker for Lincoln University – Jefferson City, MO (Theme: Woman Hold up Half of the Sky). She has volunteered as a guest lecturer for Nazarene College – Olathe, Kansas multiple years in current and social Issues & concerns. She has been interviewed on both C-Span and CNN. She has participation in three international consultation panels on Hunger and Poverty held in Washington, D.C. In 1993, Marie was interviewed by People Magazine. In 1994, Mrs. Frasure was featured on CBS Morning News on Thanksgiving morning. In addition, Marie has been a speaker at the National Cathedral several times on advocacy. She has appeared and interviewed on Fox 4 Health Segment with, Cynthia Newsome, and with Loren Halifax, Ann Peterson KCTV5.
Awards and Recognition
- Reason to Believe Award of Excellence Honoree
- Featured as “A Kindness Profile” – Kansas City Star, September 19, 1996
- Nominated Hero and Heroine, Mother Jones Magazine – 1993
- National Dean’s List for Scholastic Achievement
- Woman of the Year 1991 - Mt. Carmel of God in Christ
- Who’s Who Among Professional Business Women
- Received the Excel Award of Excellence – Christian Community Foundation; YIELD Program
- Multiple awards for outstanding volunteerism and leadership
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Patricia E. (Weems) Gaston joined the University of Kansas in 2018 after a long, stellar career at The Washington Post, where she was an editor who worked on several desks including National, Foreign and Editorial. Before coming to the Post in 1997, Gaston worked at the Dallas Morning News, where she was an assistant foreign editor and was co-editor of the 1994 Pulitzer Prize-winning series on violence against women.
Gaston grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, and is a 1977 graduate of F.L. Schlagle High School. At Schlagle, she was a member of the National Honor Society, senior class vice president, a Kansas Honor student, a member of the girls track team, the Letter Club and the Diachron newspaper staff.
She graduated from Kansas City Kansas Community College in 1979 and received a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas in 1981. She has a master's degree in sports management from The George Washington University.
Gaston is the proud mother of two grown children: Erin, a special education teacher in Fairfax County, Va., and Jonathan, who works with disabled young adults and who has a mobile car-detailing business in Fairfax County.
In 2013, she was a Leadership Institute Fellow with the Center for American Progress, a progressive public policy program. In her spare time, Gaston has worked as a kitchen, case management and advocacy volunteer at Miriam's Kitchen and served on the agency's Volunteer Advocacy Advisory Committee. She also served two, two-year terms as the co-chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force of the American Association of University Women.
Since returning to KU to teach, she advises the staff of the University Daily Kansan, led the school's search for the Knight Chair in Audience and Community Engagement for News, serves as a mentor in the Rising Scholars Program, is a trustee of the William Allen White Foundation, the University's Committee on Faculty Rights, Privileges & Responsibilities, the school's Curriculum and Grievance committees and the William Allen White National Citation Award Nomination Working Group. In the spring, she was elected to the Faculty Senate and is a member of the executive committee.
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Aaron H. Henson, Sr.
Aaron H. Henson is a 3rd generation native of Kansas City, KS matriculating through Hazel Grove Elementary, Coronado Middle School, and finally graduating from Washington High School in 1996. His educational pursuits led him to Holly Springs, MS where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Management. For the past 20 years Aaron has had a career in pharmaceutical sales which has led him to travel the country and reside in Greenville, MS, Olive Branch, MS, Memphis, TN, and ultimately returning back to the Kansas City area.
While continuing his career in pharmaceuticals in 2017 he assumed the pastorate of Henson Memorial Church of God in Christ, a ministry founded by his grandfather. Since 2017 he has expanded the church’s reach into the community by founding a nonprofit organization, Healing Health, Harmony Community Outreach, whose missions is to bring purpose back to the family. The church has also partnered with USD#500 through the Caring for Kids Network to help students and staff at Caruthers Elementary to have a better school year, and also a forth coming after school tutoring program scheduled to launch in 2021. The church also provides Christmas meals annually to families within the Kansas City community.
Aaron has been married to his wife, Christine, for 21 years and together they share 4 children. He credits his success in life to GOD and family. A statement that was made famous by his father, Willis Wayne Henson, in his household growing up was this: “If you don’t work, you don’t eat”. This has been a metaphoric statement in his life that has motivated him to always do his best and to make the most out of every situation. This is why he is so elated to be a part of this year’s Reasons to Believe Honorees for 2020.
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Stefan A. Jones is a born and bred product of Wyandotte County and a proud USD 500 alumnus. As a student in Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools he attended William Allen White Elementary, Eisenhower Middle School, and Sumner Academy of Arts and Science. Jones graduated from the latter in 2006. While enrolled at Sumner Jones was highly involved with visual art, forensics, theatre, and the chorale. His efforts earned superior ratings for vocal performances and first place awards at state competitions in forensics.
After obtaining his diploma Jones attended the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff where he continued his involvement with art, music, and theatre. His undergraduate education was financed by academic and arts scholarships. He graduated from UAPB magna cum laude with a degree in art education. His achievements in undergrad coupled with a strong art portfolio earned him the distinction of selection as a Martin Luther King, Jr. Fellow at Boston University. This honor came along with a full ride scholarship for graduate studies at BU.
Throughout college Jones worked in the Kansas City Freedom Schools Initiative as a Servant Leader Intern. He would later on move up the ranks in this organization to the national level, working as an Ella Baker Trainer with Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools. He attributes a lot of his current teaching practices to what he learned about social justice and civil rights working within this organization. With a love for youth ignited by Freedom schools directly after grad school in 2012 Jones became a full-time, public-school teacher at Coronado Middle School in his hometown school district.
While teaching art at Coronado Jones was involved with a myriad of extracurricular endeavors. For five consecutive years he was the debate and cross country coach at Coronado. He also was an assistant track coach at Coronado and F.L. Schlagle High School for a period of time. While teaching in KCKPS Mr. Jones organized and hosted countless talent shows, Black History programs, Hispanic Heritage programs, multicultural events, pep assemblies, and more. In 2018 he was selected as the star teacher of the year at Coronado Middle, an honor he cherishes greatly. Jones currently splits his time between Kansas City, Atlanta, and traveling internationally while teaching, mentoring, and creating art; but he still regularly organizes community events that feature the talented students of Wyandotte County.
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Samuel Lockridge was born and raised in Wyandotte County and a proud USD 500 alumnus. He attended Hawthorne Elementary, Douglass Elementary, Grace Luthern, V. Lindsay SDA School and F.L. Schlagle High School. Lockridge graduated in 2007 third in his class. While at Schlagle, Lockridge was President of both the Student Council and National Honor Society. He participated in forensics, track and field, and Drum Major of the Marching Stallion.
After Graduation Lockridge attended the Florida A & M University where he was involved in the Student Government Association, dance, track and field, and a host of other student and school organizations, graduating in 2012 with a degree in psychology.
He returned to Kansas City to find a community, one he loved so dearly, torn asunder by crime, lack of proper education, and lack of community involvement. Community Involvement is essential to community strength—without it, communities grow weak and eventually crumble. As a resident of this city and a member of this beloved community he believed he was obligated to give of his talents, resources, and of himself to improve the world around me: "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." (Genesis 2:15). He wanted to raise awareness of crime, poor education, and mass incarceration—bridging the gap between local government, civic and community organizations, and the community at large, with the purpose to create a safer and more prosperous environment than the one we currently live in. That’s when he founded EMBRACE a Non-profit organization geared towards improving his community around him. This also began his journey of teaching. Previously a social worker for Wyandot Mental Health, I was hired as a special education teacher at Harmon High school
While teaching at Harmon, Lockridge would coach girls basketball, and also help organize Black History, Homecomings and Prom. Lockridge would go on to teach at Central Middle School, and Eisenhower Middle School. In 2017 he was hired as the elementary performing arts teacher at KIPP Endeavor Academy. Lockridge has created fundraisers for Breast Cancer, and Multiple Sclerosis. He has also started a summer school program that provides a rigorous STEAM curriculum. Through his non-profit organization he has helped aid the Flint water crisis, and also efforts in Houston during hurricane Harvey. Lockridge prides himself in being a product of Wyandotte County, to show the young black boys that they too can be successful with hard work and determination.
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Michelle Manning, a devoted wife to Grady, a mother of six, and grandmother to 9 beautiful children, has served as an effective elementary school teacher, Intervention Teacher, Instructional Coach, and is currently serving as an Assistant Principal in the KCKPS USD 500. Her job has allowed her to train and coach teachers in teaching and learning, so that all students will have an opportunity to achieve mastery in content areas that will lead them to graduate high school college and career ready. Michelle is a lifelong learner, who holds a degree in Education, an ESL and Reading specialist endorsement, and a double Masters in Curriculum and Instruction with an Emphasis in Reading and one in Educational Administration Leadership.
Michelle Manning, a devoted wife, mother, and grandmother, serves faithfully as the Executive Director of Evangelistic Center’s Children’s Ministry Department. She was born in Kansas City, Kansas where she graduated from Sumner Academy of Arts and Science. She continued her educational pursuits and earned a Bachelor of Arts and Science in Education, an ESL and Reading specialist endorsement, and a double Masters in Curriculum and Instruction and in Educational Administration Leadership.
Michelle’s dedication to education has led her to become a learner both inside and outside of the classroom. She spends time throughout the year volunteering and tutoring students who need that extra support in several of content areas. She enjoys music and, on the weekends, you can find her giving vocal and piano instruction to children and adults.
In the classroom, Michelle believes that all students should have the right to the best education and access to the best teachers. This belief has led her to conduct small learning clinics after school hours for teachers, so that they can have the right tools that will allow them to move instruction and help students reach their highest potential. Setting high expectations for her students has resulted in high student achievement in her classroom and receiving State recognition for high student achievement on the Kansas State Assessments.
“My purpose in life is to leave this world, better than what I’ve found it by giving all kids the opportunity to believe and dream beyond their current situation.”
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Stephenie Smith, MSW
Stephenie Smith, Co-founder and Managing Partner of Sophic Solutions, was born in Oklahoma but raised in Kansas City, KS where she grew up in a loving family and community. After graduating from Sumner Academy of the Arts & Sciences in 1997 Stephenie went on to graduate from Fisk University in Nashville, TN. She later enjoyed graduate studies at Vanderbilt University and earned her Master’s of Social Work at University of TN. Ever on the altar, Stephenie has served with her community with the purpose of addressing the effects of poverty and oppression. In 2011, Stephenie returned to the greater Kansas City area to support the revitalization of the Linwood Y community. With the support of an amazing team, they were able to complete a $19 million renovation and expansion and most importantly, remind the youth and families throughout the community that their goals and purpose matters. Today, Stephenie serves as Sophic's lead authority on executive project management, operationalizing equity, organizational structure & design and operations improvement. She has led several efforts to align not-for-profit policy with community investments, with a special emphasis on large-scale transformation. Above all, her work has been shaped by a holistic approach to well-being and the belief that equity matters. Stephenie believes that “People need People!” and shares her life with her ‘super dope’ husband, Dr. Rodney Smith and her two ‘about that life’ children, Phoenix and Chi. Stephenie also recognizes she would not be here today without the love and support of her parents, sisters, and her village.
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Dr. Brandon Wyn McCray
Dr. Brandon Wyn McCray was born in Kansas City, KS on December 10, 1967, to Velma Burns and Emerson McCray. When his mother met Ted S. Jones during Brandon’s infancy, he was immediately welcomed into the extended Jones Family as Ted and Velma’s son. At a young age, he was preceded in death by Emerson and in 2019 Ted and Velma passed away.
Prior to the marital union of his parents Ted and Velma, Brandon resided with his maternal grandparents, Deacon Olvin and Mother Corean Burns. Brandon’s initial spiritual experience resulted from his early membership at his grandparents’ church, Mount Zion Church of God in Christ in Kansas City, KS. A fifth-generation member of the Church of God in Christ, it was evident that the call to Christian ministry was on Brandon’s life. While residing with his parents at their first apartment, Brandon would mimic the preaching of Bishop J. E. Abernathy, Sr. using the coffee table as his podium. Unbeknownst to them, his preaching and praying influenced the heart and soul of Brandon’s parents and it challenged Ted and Velma to consider dedicating their lives to the Lord.
The Miracle and the Spiritual Conversion
As a young child, Brandon was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia, which at the time was an incurable disease. Shortly after experiencing a sickle cell crisis, Velma sought a remedy to ease her son’s suffering and pain. At the urging of her older sister, Olivia Griffin, Velma took Brandon to the Pentecostal Church of God in Christ for Elder Daniel M. Jordan to pray for God’s divine healing. Weeks later, Brandon was examined by his pediatrician who reported with great astonishment that Brandon was not only healed of Sickle Cell Anemia, he no longer carried the trait. Shortly after his fifth birthday in February of 1973, Brandon heard Elder Jordan preach a sermon entitled, “Heaven or Hell” where he spoke about the reality of Hell and the choices one must make to avoid making it their eternal home. Brandon cried throughout the sermon and at its conclusion, he responded to the altar call appeal and dedicated his life and soul to the Lord. Within a month – March 11, 1973 – Velma re-dedicated her life to the Lord and on May 6, 1973, Ted accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. All three, along with Brandon’s infant brother Ted L. Jones, united in fellowship with the Pentecostal Church of God in Christ.
Education and Birth of a Career
Brandon matriculated through the Kansas City, KS Public Schools attending Fairfax Elementary School, Hazel Grove Elementary School, Coronado Junior High School and he graduated from Sumner Academy of Arts and Science in 1986. In elementary school, Brandon began his love affair with music while learning how to play the violin. As a junior high school student, Brandon transitioned to the string bass and was recognized as a very accomplished musician.
As an adolescent, Brandon was exposed to the music ministry of a fellow parishioner and Gospel saxophonist, Deryl Barnett. Coupled with his intrigue for and natural gift of music, Brandon joined several of his childhood friends to learn how to play the guitar under the tutelage of Bishop Jordan. Just as he had done with the violin and string bass, his ability to play surpassed that of his contemporaries. Brandon’s uncle, John Watson, Sr., recruited him to play the guitar for his for Gospel Singing group as did several others in Kansas City. During Brandon’s eighth grade year, he attended an annual Thanksgiving Day Concert at the Kansas East Ecclesiastical Jurisdictional Headquarters of the Church of God in Christ to hear the World-Renowned Gospel Saxophonist, Dr. Vernard Johnson. Moved by the soul-stirring performance that evening, Brandon set his sights on learning how to play the saxophone. His quest to replicate the anointed sound of Dr. Johnson, motivated him to listen to various recordings and to play along by ear. Oftentimes, Brandon would play his saxophone with the accompaniment of his mother on the baby grand piano in the family living room. Eventually, his confidence in his ability to perform increased and he began playing his saxophone at church along with other musicians. Within the same year, Brandon performed solos at his home church and at several other churches in the Greater Kansas City Metropolitan Area.
To continue his growth as a saxophonist, Brandon tried out for the high school jazz band. The teacher told him that he was not good enough to be a member of the band and that he would never be good enough to play at the church that was across the street. Rejected but undenied, he joined the marching band and he continued to practice the saxophone daily. Brandon could be heard rehearsing in the garage – because of the acoustics – as late as 2:00 am. During his junior year of high school, Brandon performed “Amazing Grace” for the United Negro College Fund Telethon at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, MO. A music producer approached and offered him a contract to record a Jazz album that same evening. Flattered by the offer, Brandon thanked the producer, but he immediately declined it stating he had made a vow to the Lord that he would use his anointed gift to glorify the name of the Lord. Embedded in his heart and soul, Brandon believed and adhered to the message of one of his favorite songs, Only What You Do for Christ Will Last. This event would prove to be his defining moment.
In the Jones household, it was widely known that church and academics took precedence over all extra-curricular activities. However, Brandon was an exceptional athlete who lettered in football, basketball and track. As a sprinter, Brandon excelled, while following the footsteps of his older cousin and legendary sprinter Geoffrey Wright. Coached by his next-door neighbor Alvin Mobley and Cecil Carter at Sumner Academy, he earned dozens of track and field medals. Brandon was recognized as one of the fastest athletes in the State of Kansas in the mid-1980s. In addition to competing with his classmates, Brandon joined coach Al Hobson’s summer track and field league. Following high school graduation, Brandon earned an athletic scholarship to the Kansas City, Kansas Community College (KCKCC) where he ran track for Coach Paul Jones. Although he had an affinity for competing, Brandon realized that the grueling schedule of a college athlete impeded him from perfecting his passion for music. As a result of this, he began focusing his attention on playing the saxophone.
Despite being denied the opportunity to play in his high school jazz band, Brandon tried out for and was invited to join the KCKCC band. Led by Professor Marlon Cooper, the jazz band experience was humbling. Although he received acclaim for his exploits as a Gospel Saxophonist, Brandon lacked fundamental knowledge of music and Professor Cooper made it his duty to teach him how to become a more polished musician. Within the first year, Brandon rose to the top and became a featured musician for the school’s highly acclaimed jazz band. Upon completing his course of studies at KCKCC, he continued his pursuit towards a degree in Music Education by enrolling and attending Emporia State University in Emporia, KS. As an undergraduate, Brandon joined the Marching Band and Jazz Band where he continued to mature into a seasoned saxophonist. Once again, he became a featured soloist for the jazz band and was recognized on a national level as one of the top college musicians; thus, bringing notoriety to the ensemble. In 1989, Brandon participated in the University of Notre Dame Jazz Festival where he was recognized for his exemplary performance as a soloist. Brandon’s soulful rendition of Oliver Nelson’s “Black Brown and Beautiful” received a rousing ovation; becoming his first professional recording. After earning his Bachelor of Music Education in December of 1991, Brandon enrolled at Wichita State University where he earned his Master of Music Education.
For several years, Brandon served as the instrumental music director at Jardine Middle School in Wichita, KS. After marrying Marcie Johnson in January of 2000, he relocated to Kansas City, KS and taught instrumental music for one year at West Middle School. In February of 2002, Brandon and Marcie welcomed the birth of their son Joseph Perry McCray. Eventually, the marriage ended in divorce and Brandon relocated to Wichita, KS.
In 2015, Brandon completed his Doctor of Music Arts in saxophone performance at the University of Kansas. As a final project for his degree completion and major component of the dissertation, Brandon organized a lecture recital. Unlike any recital of its kind, Brandon delivered the most memorable performance on April 18, 2015, at the Lied Center on the campus of the University of Kansas. Professor Vince Gnojek stated, “Dr. McCray’s final lecture recital was particularly memorable. Swarthout Recital Hall was being remodeled, so Dean Walzel and Derek Kwan arranged for Brandon to perform his gospel music recital on the Lied Center stage. It was a momentous occasion. Brandon had a gospel choir and rhythm section on stage and more than 600 attendees from both the Kansas City African-American and KU campus communities.” Audience members enjoyed spirited renditions of “Wade in the Water”, “Amazing Grace” and various other traditional Gospel songs. The event was capped off with a collaborative performance of Richard Smallwood’s “Total Praise” where the F. L. Schlagle High School Marching Band played along with the choir, the rhythm section and Dr. McCray.
In 1996, Brandon recorded his debut Gospel album, “I Still Have Joy”. Four years later in 2000, he recorded “My Heritage” before a live audience in the sanctuary of St. Mark Church of God in Christ in Wichita, KS. The aforementioned album was dedicated to twelve men who made a profound impact on Rev. McCray’s spiritual growth. He went on to record “Hymns to Him (Momma’s Songs)” dedicated to his mother; “Just Jesus” for the 65th Oklahoma City Simultaneous Revival and “Patriotic” – a collection of songs saluting men and women who served in the United States military. Additionally, Brandon collaborated with various artist on multiple gospel music projects.
Legacy of Faith
When Brandon arrived in Wichita, KS to pursue his graduate degree, he joined St. Mark Church of God in Christ under the leadership of Bishop J. C. Gilkey, Sr. In 1997, he was ordained as a licensed Elder in the Church of God in Christ during the Kansas Southwest Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction annual convocation. In the late 1990s, Elder McCray traveled across the world to 5 continents with his mentor Dr. Johnson; ministering to tens of thousands through his saxophone performance and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ before venturing off alone. He played for royal and elected dignitaries as well as in non-Christian places of worship. Elder McCray’s anointed gift afforded him the opportunity to play in every mainstream Christian denomination; consequently, developing close relationships with the leaders of each organization. His passion for studying the word of God and winning souls to the Lord, inspired him to lead Bible study groups with his uncles, aunts, cousins and friends. After evangelizing around the world and throughout the nation, Elder McCray founded Redemption and Restoration Church Fellowship in June of 2019 where he served as Senior Pastor.
As the eldest of five siblings and among the three adjacent households of Jones, Mobley and Smith, Brandon loved all unconditionally. He rarely if ever cast judgement on anyone and often chose to take the high road during discourse. Taught how to defend himself by his maternal grandfather, Brandon believed it was his responsibility to protect every sibling in each household against any threat of danger. Because of his spiritual enlightenment and conversion at an early age, Brandon became a role-model to all. Unbeknownst to him, each milestone achieved, and every accolade earned left an indelible impression on those who would follow the path he took.
A few years after returning to Kansas City, Dr. McCray moved in with his grandfather Deacon Burns to assist with his care. On a quest to inspire budding musicians to develop an appreciation for music, Dr. McCray volunteered his services as an Asst. Band Director under the leadership of Maestro Reginald May at F. L. Schlagle High School. Eventually, Dr. McCray’s gift made room for him and he obtained part-time employment in the same capacity he had volunteered. While pursuing his doctoral degree, Dr. McCray arranged for various music professors from surrounding colleges and universities to serve as guest clinicians. In addition to bringing musical experts to Schlagle High School, scholars visited college campuses. Similar to that of his parents Ted and Velma – who were affectionately known as Big Blue and Mrs. Blue – Dr. McCray’s heart for Schlagle Stallions grew fonder with every encounter. In February of 2017, Dr. McCray was recognized by the Friends of Yates as a “Black Man of Distinction” for his Outstanding Commitment and Service to the Kansas City Community.
On Friday, March 27, 2020, Brandon was admitted into the University of Kansas Medical Center where later tested positive for COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus). Although it appeared after two weeks that he was recovering from the experience, his condition worsened. Surrounded virtually through Zoom by all of his siblings, several cousins and dear friends, Rev. Dr. Brandon Wyn McCray transitioned Sunday, April 19, 2020, at 1:08 am.
Rev. Dr. Brandon Wyn McCray leaves to cherish his memory: one son, Joseph P. McCray of Kansas City, KS; three brothers, Terry McCray (Shanti) of Raytown, MO, Ted L. Jones (LaTosha) of Grandview, MO and Dr. Jarius O. Jones (Kim) of Kansas City, KS; two sisters, Karene D. Salaam (Ron) of Oakland, CA and Jennifer J. Jones of Independence, MO; one godson, Jamie L. Nix, II of Kansas City, MO; godparents Phyllis and Dwight Henderson of Yorktown, VA; aunts, District Missionary Lillian Wright, District Missionary Janet Bailey of Overland Park, KS, and Betty Barnes of Kansas City, KS, Attorney Marilee Jones-Cofield of Carson, CA, Elizabeth Swenson (Lloyd) of Aurora, CO, Vernell Jones and Barbara Jones of Lansing, MI; uncles, Jack McCray, John Watson, Sr. (Vera) and Jerry S. Jones (Sherry) of Kansas City, KS, Deacon Tommy Griffin and Herbert L. Jones of Kansas City, MO, and Thomas A. Jones of Carson, CA; best friend Daryl Horton (Patrice) of Rancho Cucamonga, CA; bonus parents, Claudine and Wilburt Horton of Kansas City, KS; bonus brothers and classmates, John Stacey Cobbins, Arthur Jackson, and Marcellaus Johnson; and a host of nieces, nephews, extended family and friends.