KC Race & Equity Initiative: Starting the Conversation

Kansas City is stronger and more vibrant than ever. Together, we’ve revitalized a stagnant downtown with the Power & Light District, Sprint Center, the Streetcar, the Kauffman Center, and so much more. We’re the smartest city in the world with our public WiFi network and smart infrastructure. We’re a cultural hub with our museums, galleries and upcoming Open Spaces arts festival. And soon, many more will be able to visit our great city when we open our new, state-of-the-art airport. Our city is developing momentum in a way it never has before.

Yet, while we’ve accomplished so much, we’re still recognized as one of the most segregated cities in the country. Kansas City has yet to come to terms with its past and the structural biases that continue to hold our community back. We as a community must address the history and systems that have resulted in perpetual inequities among races and cultures in our community.

Those who know my work know that I believe in data-driven approaches to chronic problems. That’s why I’m turning to data to illustrate these inequities. Disparities among racial groups exist in every aspect of our community, be it economic, educational, or health outcomes.

The data speaks for itself:

POVERTY: As of 2016, 18.3 percent of our residents live below the Federal Poverty Level; the national average is 15.1 percent. In Kansas City, 10.1 percent of White, non-Hispanic residents are below the Federal Poverty Level – the lowest percentage among all race and ethnic groups. Compared to their White counterparts, more than three times as many Black residents (30.6 percent) and 2.5 times as many Latino residents live in poverty (26.9 percent). Source: American Community Survey 2012-2016 5-Year Estimates

EDUCATION: In 2017 in Kansas City, 78 percent of White students were reading proficiently by the end of third grade. Now, compare that to only 33 percent of Black students, 41 percent of Hispanic students, and 41 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students reading proficiently. Let’s also consider that Black students experience suspensions at a rate that is 5 times that of White students, and 3 times that of Hispanic students. Soon we’ll be collecting kindergarten readiness data by race to identify and close any gaps, because race should not be a predictor of readiness for school. Source: Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education – Missouri Assessment Program (MAP)

EMPLOYMENT: White unemployment in Kansas City dipped below 5 percent in 2016. Compare that to unemployment rates for American Indian and Alaska Native residents at 12.6 percent, Black residents at 12 percent, and Hispanic residents at 6.9 percent. Source: American Community Survey 2006-2010, 2009-2013, 2012-2016 5-Year Estimates

HEALTH: The zip codes with the shortest life expectancy – 64109, 64126, 64127, 64128, 64130 and 64132 – are all located in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ’s Racially Concentrated Areas of Poverty (RCAP). In other words, the areas with the shortest life expectancy are those wherein the majority are people of color living in poverty. The infant mortality rate for Black infants is more than double that of White infants. For every 1,000 births, 4 White infants and 9 Black infants die before their first birthday. Source: Kansas City Health Department

CRIME: According to the Kansas City Police Department, of the total 151 homicides in 2017, 73 percent of homicide victims were people of color, while 27 percent were White. Source: Kansas City Police Department

The data is clear. Racial inequities exist in our neighborhoods, schools, and workforce. But no individual alone can perpetuate these inequities. They’re a result of systems and institutions that have enabled some races to get ahead and others to be left behind. They exist in every aspect of our community, often times perpetuated by our acceptance of the status quo – operating as we always have without questioning how our own practices affect opportunities for others. These inequities will continue to persist unless we as a community are willing to talk about how race impacts every aspect of an individual’s life.

The Mayor’s Office, City Manager’s Office and the the Community Alliance for Race and Equity (CARE) are working together to create a safe and supportive space for us all to begin learning about systemic and institutional barriers that prevent our residents and our city from reaching our full potential.

Race is a sensitive topic. It’s an integral piece of our identity, and that’s why talking about inequities tied to race requires thoughtful planning. That’s why we’ve worked with leaders in this field to implement the Government Alliance on Race and Equity’s theory for advancing change in racial equity:

  • Normalizing Conversations
  • Organizing
  • Operationalizing

In the year I have left in office, it’s my goal to begin the process of normalizing conversations about race and inequity. That’s why we’ll have a series of public conversations and trainings this fall, beginning with our kick-off event on August 29 at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center. Our goal is to help community members come together to develop a common language to talk about race, to begin understanding how our collective past has shaped the systems that perpetuate racial inequity, and to begin to heal.

Race and equity experts in Kansas City have come together to form the Community Alliance for Race and Equity (CARE). With 20+ community partners, including my office, CARE is taking an active role in organizing by providing community education and trainings and resources for individuals and organizations to begin addressing the biases that exist in their own spaces. And at the city level, we’re forming the Race and Equity Action Team (REAT) with members from departments across the city to identify ways that we can modify city processes and practices to be more equitable.

REAT will be tasked with formulating and implementing a Race and Equity Action Plan for the city government, as an organization. The plan, as well as a public-facing, online dashboard that will track the city’s progress, will enable the city to begin the process of operationalizing, by serving as long-term tools for decision-making and accountability.
This process won’t be easy – far from it – but it’s essential to moving our city forward and making sure all our kids have the chance to reach their potential and help build this City’s future.

I’ve learned over the years that when our community is faced with a challenge, the people of Kansas City step up and answer the call. Consider this your call to join us and our partners in this effort.

It starts with a conversation. So join me Wednesday, August 29 at 6 p.m. at the Kauffman Foundation. Come with an open mind, ready to learn, listen, and work.


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