As Kansas City prepared to celebrate the U.S. bicentennial in 1976, an idea was born which eventually led to the appointment of the Mayor’s Ethnic Enrichment Commission. In order to focus the public’s attention on the area’s rich cultural heritage, Charles B. Wheeler, Mayor of Kansas City during the bicentennial year, formed the Ethnic Heritage Committee. That committee planned an Ethnic Bicentennial Parade, presented ethnic menus at local restaurants, and compiled a written history of contributions made to Kansas City’s growth by various ethnic groups. The latter project won national recognition from the United States Bicentennial Association.
The committee took a step toward permanency in 1978 when two members of the Naturalization Council urged the formation of the Ethnic Enrichment Committee. During that period, the group hosted its first Ethnic Enrichment Festival at the Liberty Memorial. The festival drew the attention of Mayor Richard Berkley and City Councilman Vic Swyden, who introduced a resolution to the City Council in 1980 creating the Mayor’s Ethnic Enrichment Commission. The Commission, with membership from 66 countries and ethnic groups (click here to learn more), continues to foster understanding and appreciation of cultural diversity in the greater Kansas City area. With Kansas City and Missouri Parks and Recreation, the Commission hosts an annual festival in Swope Park each August.