What Speaks to Me Most … Hope, Heritage, History through the Arts

What does your neighborhood mean to you? Do you know your neighbors? Are they friends, passing acquaintances … someone to wave to as you drive by? I get it … we have become an insulated society where we fear meeting folks. I am guilty of it. However, there are pockets around town that are defying these ideas of isolation. One major example is the Ivanhoe Neighborhood.

The Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council (INC) was originally formed in 1967 and is one of the oldest and largest organized neighborhoods in Kansas City. The geographical boundaries are 31st Street on the north to Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard on the south, Prospect on the east to Paseo Boulevard on the west. This significant area includes about 6,000 residents. To help folks out, INC staff and volunteers started mobilizing an effort to get people involved and hopefully help decrease the crime. Because Ivanhoe continues towards its vision of having a thriving neighborhood, it seeks adaptive and technical solutions that invest social, philosophical, and cultural resources towards the advancement of the community’s sustainability.

That cultural angle piqued my interest and I reached out to Yolanda R. Young, the youth and family outreach specialist with INC. So she and I talked about a crowdfunding effort titled “Hope, Heritage, History through the Arts.” To take even greater steps and bring together even more people, Young and Executive Director Margaret J. May are seeking support to put together art related workshops and training opportunities serving individuals and families in Ivanhoe and surrounding neighborhoods. The women are thinking small. They aimed at $5,000 for the first three workshops. Young wants to provide 12 community workshops aimed at bringing in all ages. To offer support or learn more, visit www.incthrives.org.

INC is partnering with local musicians, storytellers and landscape artists including James and Angela Ward, AY Musik, Tracy Milsap, Carmelita Clark and Hilary Noonan who will not only have the opportunity to train and educate, but who will have the opportunity to showcase their talents and share the beauty of their work while workshop attendees gain valuable, transferrable skills. The workshops and trainings are designed to help attendees explore and interpret African American History through visual and performing arts.

INC already has the Positive Alternatives Programs in place. These programs are defined as youth outreach and activities for all ages. “This program provides a positive alternative to alcohol, drugs, violence, gangs, and delinquency.”

Among the programs are Ivanhoe Reads where books are put into the hands of children and adults. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are encouraged as well. There is also an Explorers program, plus sports such as Little League Baseball, the Ivanhoe Heat Basketball and Cheer teams too. During the summer, there’s also Eating From the Garden, College Coaching, a teen/youth council, plus music. During the school year, the music program runs after school and includes an interactive jazz education program teaching children/youth basic instrumental music theory, composition, and performance. In the summer, the program continues with a different time schedule.

For Young, the addition of sports, the arts and other activities make sense. “The summer programs have been a hit and we know that young people with idle time can find trouble,” she says. “We know the return to the arts is so important for us and for the young people around us. School districts hack at arts budgets, but we want to see if through some monthly workshops, we can open up minds to the arts again. However, the workshops are not just for kids, but for all the neighbors.”

Young is glad to get local artists to join the mix. “They are transferring their skills to the local community,” she explains. “We are pressing forward with workshop plans. We are looking at a culinary arts theme for September and some poetry, spoken word and storytelling in October. Historically, African village elders shared their words of wisdom by stories. We think poetry and literature will just add to the mix.”

Young is on the same page with the wonders and enrichment that the arts provide. “We know art brings about change and improves folks. Success shows up in many ways. First and foremost, we hope the use of visual and performing arts helps break the ice. It’s a connection with the soul and the act of building and creating camaraderie. The joy comes in being in stronger neighborhoods. We can smile and learn from each other. In turn, those lessons are taken into homes and their own blocks. Hopefully we add to a better Kansas City. We really want people to look forward to this monthly workshop. People come together around the arts.”

Kellie Houx

Kellie Houx is a writer and photographer. A graduate of Park University, she has 20 years of experience as a journalist. As a writer, wife and mom, she values education, arts, family and togetherness.

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