The title of the film, Our Divided City
, was not the one I had in mind when I first started on the project in October 2014.
But in making the film, I was able to delve deeper and deeper into the root causes behind Kansas City’s sky-high homicide rate, and that took me further and further into the black community east of Troost Avenue.
To speak of Kansas City as a whole as having a problem with violent crime is misleading. For most of the city it’s not an issue. But it is for many in the impoverished black community east of Troost.
Here the threat of violence is very real. That’s what the statistics say, and that’s what some of the people say who live there.
Not a great area to wander around with a camera, you might think. But you must believe me when I say that virtually everyone I encountered was friendly and welcoming.
People would stop their cars and ask questions about the film project. Having heard what I was doing, many would say something along the lines of, “You need to tell people what it’s like over here. We don’t get treated the same.”
It doesn’t look the same. That’s undeniable. Many of the blocks are pitted with empty buildings. There are weeds, trash, vacant lots and boarded up businesses.
But there’s still pride, and it’s worth noting that it’s only a tiny percentage who are caught up in the violence.
One former gang member I spoke to told me he how he had only lived for the moment. If you don’t have the means of seeing a future perhaps there isn’t really an alternative.
To defeat the violence, maybe we need to create hope. And by “we” I mean all of us in the city. It won’t be an easy thing to do.
One afternoon I was out with a photographer who was taking promotional pictures of a family who appears in the film. We walked with them the short distance from their home to a cluster of rotting buildings.
As we snapped away, a high school nearby closed for the day, and half a dozen black students walked past and through all the blight around us.
They didn’t speak to us, they were quiet, and I thought of the hundreds of times they’d made this walk to and from school.
I felt like stopping them and asking, “What do you think of Kansas City?”
But I guess I already knew the answer.