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Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Shout-Outs to those who build the Urban Core in KC and Camden

Another year spent in the urban core.

First half of 2011 I was in Camden, NJ where half the police force was laid off in January 2011. It was a rough, violent year in Camden. The Governor strong-armed his way into getting a county police force agreement by withholding police $ for Camden. When the Mayor and City Council played ball and agreed to support his venture, the state police were dispatched to patrol the streets. That came in November 2011. In December, the Mayor sponsored a gun buy-back program and got 57 guns off the street in exchange for $100 food vouchers at the only grocery store in Camden. Guess people are not hungry enough to give up their weapons in any greater numbers.

Second half of 2011 I was in Kansas City, MO on the eastside of Killa City. 114 homicides and counting. I am guessing there will be at least one tonight on New Year's Eve, especially as fools start shooting guns to "ring in" 2012. Homicide #100 this year was my friend and 17 year old high school student, Ricky King. It still weighs heavy on my heart, but the world keeps turning.

So, on to 2012 - and we do have some things to look forward to!

On the eastside in KC...the Troost Max bus line is in full swing. I take it a couple of times a week to get to UMKC. In addition, the Troost streetscape project and bridge replacement is nearly done. New sidewalks and curbs are a wonderful addition to the bus cut-outs and planters. The Avenue is taking shape! 

To my surprise, however, is the sidewalks and streetscape on PROSPECT Avenue!!! This is truly a wonderful sight. If we could get a Max line on Prospect we would really be in business. Thanks to our 3rd District Council reps, Melba Curls and Jermain Reed as well as our 3rd District PIAC reps for getting this project going. Next surprise is the Brush Creek now extends to just west of Prospect and connects you all the way to the Plaza. So, now you can travel down Prospect on new sidewalks and get on the beautiful, wide concrete Brush Creek Trail and get to UMKC, KCSourceLink at 4747 Troost, the Discovery Center, all the museums, Thies Park that runs all the way up to the Nelson Art Museum, the Plaza Branch library, and the Plaza. This is truly an East Meets West of Troost celebration. Thanks go out to Carol Grimaldi and all the good folks at the Brush Creek Community Partners - an organization that has worked tirelessly on improving the East to West of the Brush Creek Corridor.

Another positive for the urban core in KC is the Kansas City Public School district and its efforts to "repurpose" closed school buildings. Shannon Jax has led a robust community-centered process to identify uses most preferred by neighborhood residents surrounding the schools and seeking matching developer interest. It is the faithful carrying out of the vision to see these building become revitalization assets and not eyesores or dumping grounds for urban core neighborhoods.

The new police chief in KC, Darryl Forte, has started some serious crime enforcement and actually has markedly increased the clearance rate for murders and other crimes. Arrests are up because of his "hot spot" policing which puts more police in hot spot crime areas - so that when crimes are committed and shots are fired, police are IN THE AREA! This had led to quick arrests. I have first hand knowledge of this because Prospect Avenue is where the police cars constantly zoom up and down with lights and sirens blaring. It's noisy, but if it produces results, well, so be it. 

In Camden, the LEAP Academy family continues to be a one-woman juggernaut on Cooper Street. Another success story led by Dr. Gloria Bonilla Santiago is the creation and opening of the Early Childhood Learning Resource Center that will focus on the research of best practices in how urban communities can help parents raise their kids to be ready to learn and succeed. Modeled after the Harlem Children's Zone, it not only is a great piece of infrastructure on Cooper Street, but a wonderful community resource.

Meanwhile in Camden, school board member Sean Brown continues to take on the struggling school district. While his mission is to generate student achievement, he must first cut a swath through the intransigent bureaucracy and crony-politics that are hallmarks of Camden. He's diligent, but climbing a mountain takes time. He may not get reappointed, because he rocks the boat too much. Fair warning to all those in KC who want an appointed board... Meanwhile, keep your eyes on the prize in 2012, Sean!

In KC the saga of the school district continues to play out. Underneath the cacophony of political noise is a school board and interim superintendent, a cadre of dedicated teachers (AFT Local 691) and parents, (DAC) and interested students that are striving to achieve. Airick Leonard West has ably led the school board through the tumult of a very nasty departure by the superintendent and subsequent grab by the state upon de-accrediting the District. I won't go into the details here, but suffice it to say, that urban school districts don't stand a chance meeting the sanctimonious standards of the state while the state does nothing to support the city in making a productive environment in which a district could succeed. Meanwhile, the parents are active and have become a force to direct what happens next. Kuddos to Jamekia Kendrix for her superlative leadership in research-based solutions and community organizing.

I also want to recognize Henry Wash and his leadership of young men through High Aspirations. While there are many worthy organizations achieving results on the eastside, Henry is a former student and has walked through fire to get where he is and become who he is as a role model for other young men. He has resurrected the Urban Alliance, which is focusing on harnessing the networking power of organizations that support urban youth, particularly those that are faith-based. 2012 will be the year of focus on youth success!

Finally, I want to recognize a fellow traveler in Camden, Colleen McGann. Also a former student, she intentionally moved to Camden to support the community and walk her talk. She is the kind of people I love to know and surround myself with in the work that I do! I follow her exploits on facebook as she mirrors my experience here in KC :)

I am determined to make 2012 a positive year. I am no longer listening to the drama queens and kings that fill the 3rd district. I know they will still be there, but they won't slow me down. I can spend my time with the many good people who want to work, want to succeed, and want to help their neighbors - including all the folks on my block - the best block in Ivanhoe! Shout outs to Ms. Fells, Reggie, Antoine, Leonard, Rich, Mr. Clarence and my homie ALW! Also the guy whose name I don't know, but he always calls me Sunshine :)

I am working on 2 projects for the urban core in KC in 2012 through my social enterprise company Viable Third Community - one is a business center for home-based and other small businesses that want to take their economic success to the next level, and the second is an urban farm that uses intensive, 4 season, urban farming techniques, to grow organic, fresh, whole produce and fish in the urban core, for the residents of the urban core, by the residents of the urban core. I look forward to working with all the great people who have the same aspirations and expectations that I have - that urban places can be socially just, liveable, sustainable, and wonderful places to live for all our residents. Shout outs to Brennan, Charlene, Leslie, Karen, Mike, Don, Jerry, Kaeanna, and Roxanna.

See you on the other side of the calendar!