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Window on the West

by Mary Rupert

What can Kansas City, Kan., do to become a more equitable community?

That was the question I posed this week to Alvin Sykes, a Kansas City, Kan., human rights activist. The topic of equitableness and diversity has been discussed at the national level since recent events involving the shooting of a black teenager by a white policeman in Ferguson, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis.

“We must have more dialogue between people, because as we do, particularly all races and genders, we will learn more about each other and more about our capacity to come together and be a better city,” Sykes said. “Then we have to develop more of a belief in principles.”

That will make Kansas City, Kan., more of a community of character, he said.

Sykes was one of a group of about 20 community leaders who met with Kansas City, Kan., Police Chief Ellen Hanson recently to enhance communications. He also was part of another meeting of community members with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

At the meetings, various topics were discussed, such as the details of using deadly force in arrests, and the racial makeup of the law enforcement force.

Currently, efforts are underway for a task force to address issues such as more diversity in the police and fire departments. Mayor Mark Holland is scheduled to speak about the topic, with new plans to be presented, at 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28, at the fifth floor meeting room at City Hall, 701 N. 7th St. The city has been meeting with the Justice Department and local community members for several months.

“The mayor needs to be really commended for reaching out to the Justice Department,” Sykes said. “That’s a good step about showing he had some genuine sensitivity to the issue.”

Sykes said he believed that more interaction and outreach between public safety officers and the community would be beneficial. More interaction would lead to a greater sense of humaneness and more sensitivity on both sides, he said.

“If we develop a justice-seeking atmosphere in the community, those goals will be perceived as a matter of course,” he said.

There are some factors that make it more difficult to be hired or an unattractive job for minorities, he believes, such as the rules governing who may be hired, including rules written into contracts; the relatively low pay for officers; and the image of the officers in the community.

Last Nov. 21, it was obvious that blacks were not well-represented in the class of firefighter recruits who graduated at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kan. The group included mostly white males, and some of them graduated from schools outside of Wyandotte County. Not long after that, the topic of including more minorities, and more residents, in the ranks of the police and firefighters was discussed by commissioners at the UG’s budget meetings.

Currently, Kansas City, Kan., has a 26.8 percent black population, and a 27.8 percent Hispanic population, according to UG figures derived from the census. The police department is 11.6 percent black and 10.7 percent Hispanic, according to UG figures.

Sykes noted that was very much different from Ferguson, where 57 percent of the population was black and there were three black officers out of 53.

“We have a lot more to work with,” Sykes said. “We’re not as bad as some other places; we do have the tools to make it better. We have a good police department; our challenge is to make it a great one, so we need to get to the best practice levels of doing things.”

As an example of an issue where there needs to be better community communication and more dialogue, Sykes cited his effort to get the UG Commission to fill a vacant seat, the 1st District at large position, after a tie vote left it vacant in 2013. A resident has taken the UG to court in an effort to fill the vacant seat. The UG’s charter did not spell out what steps could be taken in the event of a tie.

“The majority of the black residents in the city live in the 1st District at large, the least amount live in the 2nd District at large,” Sykes said. “So there’s an underlying feeling in the black community that if it wasn’t for the fact that most of the blacks live in the 1st District at large, they would have filled the seat a long time ago.”

A lot of the office holders who are white did not see the issue in these terms, he added.

“We need to learn more about what other people think and what makes them feel better about this community and this world, just as we look at what it takes for us to do so,” Sykes said. “We need to address some of those concerns and have sensitivity to other communities.”

Kansas City, Kan., he said, is big enough to be able to have the ability to make some big changes within the boundaries of the community, but it’s small enough to be able to see the results if they occur, or to see that they haven’t been met. The goals are not out of reach, he said.

The city has the capacity and resources to make changes, it just has to be able to have the courage and willingness, with the sensitivity, to do so, he said.

To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email maryr@wyandottepublishing.com.

A mobile food pantry had to solve some traffic problems Saturday in western Kansas City, Kan.


Window on the West
by Mary Rupert

What is the face of hunger in Wyandotte County?

Increasingly, it can be just like you or me, according to one volunteer.

More than 400 cars showed up at a mobile food pantry last Saturday at the former Immanuel Baptist Church, now CrossRoads Family Church at 8822 Parallel Parkway, said Janice Witt, president of the local Civitan Club, which is sponsoring this effort. Witt said these people represented more than 1,000 total fed when the number of persons in the households is calculated. About 21,000 pounds of food were distributed on each of two recent Saturdays there.

“There’s a lot of people out there that need food,” Witt said, and many of them are working-class people.

The usual conversation goes like this, she said: “I have a job, I’m not poor, we just can’t afford food. I got sick or my wife is ill, or we’re both working, but by the time we pay for day care (and other bills), we can’t afford food.”

Once in a while a nice vehicle will drive through with a person inside who says, “I had a great job.” Some of the people have lost jobs for one reason or another, and can’t get help from traditional agencies because there is one earner in the family who makes too much money, she said. They’re not poor enough to get help, but they can’t feed their families, she added.

There might be some people who ask for food who don’t need it, she said. But Civitan’s local leaders decided not to do detailed checking on the families who request aid; those in line just show identification, display a document telling how many are in their household, and sign a contract stating they are in need. There is one rule, she added – no one is allowed to be rude.

“We’d rather feed 10 greedy people than miss one hungry person,” she said. “Most of these folks just need food. They don’t take more than they need.”

Some of the recipients bring donations, although donations are not required. Some bring money to help others; one woman brings a van load of soap and paper towel donations she buys with coupons, Witt said. What she needs are vegetables. Another one brings used clothing that her kids have outgrown, and the clothing goes to a thrift store at the site. She needs food.

The Harvesters mobile food pantry truck is supplying food for this Civitan effort at the CrossRoads Family Church. Drive-through food distributions from the mobile pantry are on the second and third Saturdays of the month at noon.

The need in Wyandotte County also was discussed last week at the dedication of the Catholic Charities’ Hope Distribution Center warehouse in the Argentine area by Harvesters’ president, Valerie Nicholson-Watson, who said at that event that the rate of food insecurity in Wyandotte County is 19.2 percent; about 30,000 people may not have enough food for a healthy life. For children in Wyandotte County, 27.1 percent are food insecure, she said. That represents more than 12,000 children. She spoke at a dedication for a warehouse for a larger network of nine food pantries serving a larger geographic area.

With the CrossRoads church site, Witt and Civitan had to solve a traffic problem that started with the first time the food distribution was held. When the food truck was two hours late the first day, traffic piled up around the church and went to wait at a parking lot at Providence Medical Center, according to Witt. A security officer asked the cars to leave, and a traffic jam then happened around Parallel Parkway. There was talk later at neighborhood groups about traffic problems. Then there were two times the mobile truck was on time.

The food truck was about an hour and a half late this past Saturday, and with the help of community policing, there was a plan for some cars to park on a nearby street. People were directing traffic. Everyone cooperated and things turned out well, Witt said. There were volunteers walking in these areas to make sure everything went well, she said.

“Some of the neighbors were not so happy, but the bulk of the response has been extremely positive,” Witt said.

Witt, who has brought food to the homeless under bridges in the Kansas City area previously, discovered the need in western Kansas City, Kan., has been greater than what she originally expected.

Seventy-five volunteers assisted this past Saturday at CrossRoads, not including members of the church. One group came from Liberty, Mo., and another was a group of teens from Bonner Springs, she added. The Gideons were there to help direct traffic and pass out Bibles, she added.

Besides a mobile pantry, the site has a regular food pantry that is available to people on Wednesdays. A thrift store, where persons may receive clothing, also is at the site. There are also classes offered on topics such as Kids in the Kitchen cooking skills, and learning certified nursing skills.

Persons may donate food, either canned goods or fresh garden produce, to the food pantry. Witt prefers that Civitan receive monetary donations for the food pantry because it stretches the money further – it can buy a can of corn for 13 cents or less, while individual donors will pay 50 or 60 cents for a can of food to donate.

For more information about the program or to donate, call 913-948-4040, visit Facebook.com/jwfab or Facebook.com/groups/citizensforabetterkck, or send donations to Civitan at 10940 Parallel Parkway, K280, Kansas City, Kan., 66109.

To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email maryr@wyandottepublishing.com.

Zora, left, played by Aishah Harvey, with Roscoe, played by Granville T. O’Neal. (Photo courtesy of Melting Pot Theater Co.)

Zora, left, played by Aishah Harvey, with Roscoe, played by Granville T. O’Neal. (Photo courtesy of Melting Pot Theater Co.)


by William Crum

“Echoes of Octavia,” a play that was written by the legendary Michelle T. Johnson, a resident of Wyandotte County, is a huge success.

Michelle has written a number of plays, however, this is her best play ever. Her talents are truly superior. This compelling story is about a young lady by the name of Zora, played by Aishah Harvey, who has to make a very critical decision in her life.

As the story unfolds, the audience finds out that Octavia was Zora’s mother, who died from cancer. Zora is faced with the decision to stay with the family restaurant or to accept a scholarship to Stanford University to do research. This decision is faced with the help of her father Roscoe, played by Granville T. O’Neal, a retired Kansas City, Kan., firefighter. It is one of his best roles ever.

Milo, Zora’s boyfriend, was played by Petey McGee. Other roles include Nelly, played by Sherri Roulette-Mosley; Jessie, a young waitress, played by Alisha Espinosa; and Professor Lane, played by Donovan McClendon.

Zora is faced with a major decision in her life, whether she should go and leave the family business which is highly successful or pursue her true dream of doing research at Stanford University in California. Professor Lane informs Zora that she would get a scholarship to do the research; however, she is torn with the decision whether to stay with the family restaurant business or go to Stanford.

All of the actors did a fantastic job telling this heartwarming story; they knew their characters very well.

At the end of the play the decision has been made, with the help of her stepmother Nelly and her father Roscoe. Jessie, the server, and Professor Lane, college mentor, also help.

The acting in “Echoes of Octavia” is superior, and the technical support team also did a great job. It is a well-written play that you will want to see. The set design and lighting also were done well.

The director, Harvey Williams, did a fantastic job with the assistance of Wyandotte County resident, Lynn King, assistant director, who many know from her performances and direction of plays in the Kansas City area. She is also a middle school theater instructor at Pembroke High School.

I tip my hat to Michelle T. Johnson who wrote the play, to Harvey Williams and Lynn King, who directed the play, to the cast and the production staff as well.

Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Just Off-Broadway Theater, at 3051 Central, in Kansas City, Mo. The show runs through Aug. 24. For ticket information, call 816-226-8087 or go to the website www.kcmeltingpot.com.

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