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Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Viable Third - Bernard Powell

The level of crime and violence in the 3rd District has escalated in the eyes of the media of late and has gotten the attention of the religious faithful. I haven't looked at the actual crime statistics to know if the homicide rate is up or down (I think it stands at 87 for the year) or if violent crime is up or down for this year. But does it matter? Because regardless of the facts, the assumption is that violence is up and that it is much more dangerous in the 3rd district than ever.

Recent murders in Westport, on Broadway, and Downtown have all included discussion that suggests it is the Eastside violence that is encroaching on the rest of the city. Of course there is no evidence of this, but it is always the first assumption. The recent events with teens gathering on the Plaza suggest the same. My people always like to jump to the most obvious conclusion - that black=crime and danger.

A local minister has glommed onto the bandwagon too. I include the video here ONLY because he mentions the subject of this post - Bernard Powell.

Bernard Powell was a civil rights leader who lived at 28th and Brooklyn in the 3rd district. He had a national presence as well as a local impact. He is attributed for having said the phrase, "Goldmine or Ghetto - The Choice is Yours." He believed in the 3rd district and I do too.

Powell was shot to death at 27th and Indiana in April 1979. He was only 32 years old. He made his mark in this world while in his 20's. The old heads who cling to power in this city need to remember that - young people are viable leaders too.

There is a very nice memorial erected to Powell (in 1991) at Spring Valley Park on the Brooklyn Avenue side. His boyhood home overlooks the park. I've driven by there a million times and decided to stop one day. Then I investigated the life of this young man. Here is his bio as written on the Black Missouri site. Here is the City's description of the memorial and fountain (fitting for a Kansas Citian). Bernard's sister, Teola, ran for city council in the 3rd district in 2007. A look at the KC Star archives online only goes back to 1991. Any research on Powell's death will have to be done in the library with microfilm. From all accounts I have found, in books and other historical accounts, Powell was active in bringing civil rights and social justice to Kansas City's Eastside. Desegregation of the city swimming pools, opening up real estate opportunities, and voting rights were all on his agenda - but in the 1960's anything seemed possible.

Here is a photo slideshow I put together to commemorate this great place - the memorial at Spring Valley Park and this great citizen, Bernard Powell. He knew the 3rd District was viable. I do too.

The Viable Third

A few years ago you may remember a project that airick leonard west started called the Viable Third. He and I pledged to spend all our discretionary money (groceries, gas, entertainment, clothes, etc.) only in the KCMO 3rd council district. We did it to demonstrate to those who live outside the district that it is a viable place, despite the violence and chaos that is its normal persona. I even took on a research project, the KC DrillDown, to demonstrate the economic viability of retail in the underserved urban core.

Having lived in the 3rd district for several years now (I include my part time life when I am not in NJ), I feel that the value of the district needs to be highlighted once again. The racism that is spewed on the internets at sites like TKC are very disturbing to me. The inability of City Hall to have ANY strategy to address improvement in the district is appalling. The level of violence in the district that is going unchecked is heartbreaking. There is an election in February for 2 council seats in the 3rd and 2 seats in every other district along with the Mayor. This is a crucial election. We can either solidify our worst behaviors and go back to the KC of not-so-long ago - openly racist and proud of it, or we can take the next step in the transformation of this city and follow the lead of the KCMO School District. That is the only entity in town that is getting it right. But as the resignation of Michelle Rhee and the mayoral loss in Washington, D.C. just showed us, transformation ruffles a lot of feathers and can be bounced quickly. People have to demand accountability from their officials, demand to be a priority, and follow-through by being engaged citizens.

Here is the Feb. 2011 political line-up so far and I expect that there will changes before the filing deadline which is Nov. 17, 2010. There is no official listing on the Election Board site yet. But here are the expectations from the political pundits and those who are campaigning.
3rd district - in district: Sharon Saunders Brooks (incumbent), Michael Fletcher
3rd district At-Large: Melba Curls (incumbent), Brandon Ellington

Mayor: Mark Funkhouser (incumbent), Sly James, Mike Burke, Deb Herman, Jim Rowland, Jonas Hughes.
Let me know who I have missed.

What I want to know from each of these candidates is:
1. what is your agenda to improve the 3rd district?
2. how will you go about building and implementing this agenda?
3. what is your number 1 priority for the 3rd district and why?
4. If an incumbent, list your accomplishments for bringing improvement to the district.
5. In 50 words or less, describe the 3rd district as you see it.

If every voter, blogger, media person, minister, school board member, business person, and others who have an interest in the 3rd district asked these simple, but pointed questions - we might actually have an election that means something. Feel free to appropriate these as your own and ask them whenever you have the chance.

I'm going to devote space on this blog to the viability of the 3rd district and the politics that surrounds it. But this is not just about who is running and what the latest political gossip is. I leave that to the other blogsters in KC. I want to raise issues and remind people outside of the 3rd district (who vote on the at-lard 3rd seat) that the district is much more than it seems. I am going to do a series of posts on the best spots and the best of history in the Viable Third from the perspective of an ally who lives in the district.