Dennis I. Clary: Why Superman landed in Kansas

02/28/2013 10:56 AM

03/03/2013 1:25 PM

Let’s face it. Although we love our state, Kansas is not known as a hub of popular culture.

You know this all too well if you’ve ever been greeted by the same Dorothy or Toto reference.

However, what is often neglected is Kansas’ influence on what is arguably the most iconic figure of 20th-century American popular culture: Superman.

Nearly 70 years ago, of all potential locations, his creators chose a fictional town in Kansas to shape Superman’s youth. Farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent were responsible for his honest, industrious, moral character. The people of Kansas inspired the virtues that Superman was modeled after. Truth, justice and the American way were born in Kansas.

These Kansas virtues are the same qualities that are valued by the young people of our city today. It is the appeal of our people that differentiates our community. It is what keeps us here.

Since moving to Wichita in 2001, I have been faced with the decision to leave on three occasions. Whether it was the social connections I made in a vibrant Old Town, meeting my beautiful wife and her wonderful family, or the vast network of friends and acquaintances I’ve made through the Young Professionals of Wichita, it has been the people — their capacity for good — that have kept me here.

I have found the character of Wichitans has built a collective sense of pride in our community. Although the list of every initiative, amenity and accomplishment is too great to write here, they are enjoyed by young people and countless others alike. We frequently and proudly assert, “Wichita is a great place to raise a family.” The people are why.

We can capitalize on this strength to make everyone feel welcome, but there is much work left to do. In 2010, Young Professionals of Wichita and Next Generation Consulting released a study of how Wichita stacks up in the eyes of the next generation. Unfortunately, this study found a declining population of talent under 40. It also identified that diversity and inclusion ranked last in what residents value most about living in Wichita (please visit http://www.ypwichita.org/user/file/Revised_Report.pdf for the entire report).

The changing face of Kansas demands an emphasis on inclusion. A presentation given by James Chung at the 2012 Kansas Community Leadership Initiative Summit cited that one in three children currently entering kindergarten in our state is a minority. He also shared that the Kansas Hispanic population is projected to grow by 28 percent between 2010 and 2025.

Considering these changing demographics, how well is Wichita poised to attract future talent? In recent trips with the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce to our peer cities of Omaha and Tulsa, I was impressed by the overwhelmingly inclusive nature of their community endeavors. This should absolutely be an aspiration for Wichita. An inclusive community that attracts, engages and retains diverse talent is essential to achieve sustainable economic vitality.

At its core, Superman’s origin story in Kansas is one of inclusion. The Kents accepted someone who was different from them in virtually every way imaginable.

Feeling alienated at times due to our individual differences is something to which we can all relate. It is in that shared emotion that we are all the same.

Kansas virtues are literally the foundation for one of the most inspirational characters of the last 100 years. The tale of an inclusive couple from a small Kansas community may just be the inspiration we need to attract super talent for the next 100.

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