Sowing seeds for revival along Troost Ave.
The Kansas City Star
Let’s hope the campaign buttons provided at the Screenland Theatre in the Crossroads soon symbolize a turnaround for Troost Avenue.
People who attended the premiere this month of the documentary, “We Are Superman,” picked up the red, black and white buttons with the Kansas City skyline and a rippling red Superman cape. Kevin Bryce, movie director, said the documentary has been entered in 20 film festivals in the U.S. and Canada.
The packed audience saw a 50-minute version along with a 20-minute film on Operation Breakthrough and the work it does at 31st Street and Troost Avenue for children and families. The full-length version of “We Are Superman” will be in theaters in the spring.
It includes Mayor Sly James, Green Impact Zone Executive Director Anita Maltbia and many others. The documentary shows the problems that have troubled Troost Avenue for decades as this city’s racial dividing line, and it clearly lets the audience know that Troost Avenue is improving.
The superpeople the video spotlights are among those helping to make housing, businesses, jobs and living in neighborhoods along Troost better.
“Troost to me is a great place,” said Bryce, who lives near the avenue. “I couldn’t help but document that side of the story.”
The story of Troost Avenue is one that once included many department stores, businesses, and some of Kansas City’s best homes and apartments. But J.C. Nichols, who masterminded the creation of the Country Club Plaza, also through real estate covenants established Troost Avenue as this city’s racial dividing line.
Block busting accelerated after the 1954 Supreme Court ruling ending legal segregation. Fear and ignorance of blacks were used to get whites to stampede to the suburbs. Businesses, jobs, and the black upper and middle classes followed, leaving behind those who were unable to get out.
Disinvestment and deterioration set in. The short documentary, “Operation Breakthrough — The Bus Tour: The City You Never See,” shows the inhuman condition in housing east of Troost Avenue. The film shows how families struggle with addictions, unemployment and underemployment. Yet Operation Breakthrough offers help and hope.
People are desperate to replace despair with hope, Maltbia said.
That’s happening along Troost Avenue. People of all colors are working to change the street from a dividing line to a village that’s a gathering place. It’s visible in the annual festivals, art showings and other events.
“I hope (the documentary) raises awareness,” said Carol Grimaldi, executive director of Brush Creek Community Partners and one of the persons interviewed in the film. “There is a lot of hope for this heart of our community, and I think the point was made that the people here have the answers.”
The film said that instead of someone outside the community telling people what to do, people in the area should help forge the transformation.
“I think that this is a community that has to have a real honest conversation with itself on who we are and who do we want to be,” said Molly Fleming-Pierre, policy director with Communities Creating Opportunity. In the film she highlighted efforts along Troost Avenue and statewide to change payday loan shops so that wealth in low-income areas can grow.
“I hope the film sparks a dialogue,” Fleming-Pierre said. “It’s time.”
Infamous efforts created racial and socio-economic divides like Troost Avenue. Whites have benefited from the ongoing misdeed. “But people can erase it,” she said.
Fixing Troost Avenue also will involve healing and helping people who never left the area. Rodney Knott, executive director of Re-Engage: Transforming Males into Men, in the film teaches classes to males about how to be men. Men shouldn’t leave women broke, pregnant and confused.
Knott, who hopes to get funding to teach more classes in this area, said civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said his biggest fear was that the doors of opportunity finally would open to African Americans, but too few folks would be prepared to enter.
The improvements on Troost focus on bringing down the barriers so opportunity won’t pass anyone by.
To reach Lewis W. Diuguid call 816-234-4723 or send email to Ldiuguid@kcstar.com.