Rashida Phillips (photo by Luke Harbur)
I’ve lived and worked in cities like St. Louis, Missouri; Oberlin, Ohio; Newark, New Jersey; Harlem, New York; Bronzeville, Chicago and now Kansas City, Missouri, witnessing the ephemera and imprint of Black settlement, growth and migration. A glowing reminiscence of our “golden years” over time. There are striking commonalities and sometimes tattered realities between them: aged generational homes, sidewalks lined with pride, crumbling buildings with “lot for sale” signs, street performances in front of once-was clubs, foraged gardens nearby, churches fellowshipping, and pop-up markets with goods for weekly unwind. Here we are thriving or surviving through the ebb and flow of modern development and change.
Though, what becomes of change that misvalues districts like 18th and Vine? How do we enliven and embolden a once abundantly flourishing community through resources and jobs that mitigate safety and crime over boundaries and blight? In the ways that Bronzeville and Harlem represented national beacons of Black life, so too has 18th and Vine contributed vastly to national and Kansas City culture. Doctors and barbers, bakers and makers, famous musicians and baseball players would fill these corridors, brush shoulders with everyday folk as they rushed to daily appointments, then later soak in distinct Jazz music and nightlife. This was and will always be a form of liberation. When the community is held whole through sustained business, collective gatherings and balanced recreation. We yearn for and deserve such a return to humanity.
Here, there is an ever-phasing Renaissance emerging — honoring history and cultural heritage, business and education, along with entertainment. We don’t want limits on our growth to only a good show or a good time, but respect for the sweat equity of all of our residents and neighbors. Work with us to uplift our young through learning opportunities and training for respected roles in society. Care for our elders, whose wisdom answers most if not many puzzling questions. Patronize our restaurants re-opening, build up livable housing for and with us, look out for grandmas and grandpas perched in windows, stop in galleries and buy art for your home and offices, listen and tip musicians in clubs and places that rock into the wee hours. But we’ve also got wellness and gentrification to mind, alongside visits to museums, churches, schools and institutions.
I’ve sown seeds at the center of many spaces built from Black brilliance, deep roots, muscled work and fearless tenacity. Places where my people put forth a world of booming businesses, bustling arts, deep healing practices and cultural markers uniquely endearing and enduring through high and low tides. Resilience is a natural way of life. Family and spirituality, a necessity. We’ve set high standards, defined a world, created new art forms, set and broken records because here is where we hold water. We sweeten over time with joy, resources, caring residents, celebratory visitors and fiercely divine stories and rituals. Bring opportunity; we’ll bring the honey.
–Rashida Phillips, Executive Director, American Jazz Museum