By Neil Rudisill, Health Initiatives Manager, Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council
Over the past half century, the eastside of Kansas City, Missouri has been a place of concentrated race and poverty. Despite this, the neighborhood remained relatively vibrant until the 1980s when the black middle class began moving to the suburbs. This, coupled with loss of manufacturing jobs, allowed vacancy and blight to take hold of the area. With high levels of vacant buildings and houses, the drug trade was able to flourish and gave the perfect opportunity for the crack cocaine epidemic to further destroy those left behind. The hopelessness and fear that residents felt was often ignored. Finally, residents decided to take back control of their environment.
Beginning in 1997, Alan Young and his wife Yolanda committed themselves to ending the drug trafficking happening on their block. With the help of their church, they conducted prayer vigils at each of the six drug houses on their block; closing them within a single month’s time. Mr. Young demonstrated the type of courage that got noticed. A reformation was also underway within the neighborhood council and, after hearing of the closure of drug houses, Mr. Young was nominated to serve as president.
Under Mr. Young’s leadership, the neighborhood completed a comprehensive assessment and revitalization plan. It was understood that the revitalization effort would take many people working together for many years to realize. By building momentum behind the renaissance effort with a show of strength and intelligence, the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council (INC) now could focus on rebuilding their community block by block.
Ivanhoe quickly began implementing changes in the neighborhood through direct community participation. Their achievements and accomplishments were felt by the residents and soon community partners took notice. In 2001, the Kauffman Foundation supported INC by through a three-year grant to help hire staff and open an office. In 2005, Bank of America presented INC with the Neighborhood Excellence Award. In 2007, Greater Kansas City LISC selected the organization as one of six communities to participate in their NeighborhoodsNOW Program; which provided financial assistance for Ivanhoe. That same year Ivanhoe became a Community Development Corporation (CDC). In 2008, INC received their first Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for the Ivanhoe Minor Home Repair Program – supporting residents in need of vital home improvements and helping to maintain the neighborhood’s valuable housing stock. In 2011, UMB bank opened a “cashless” branch at the center – giving residents the opportunity to develop their financial understanding. Finally, in 2015 INC secured funding to build seven duplexes and 12-units of one-story senior cottages – bringing much needed new construction to the neighborhood.
Over the past 15 years, the residents have seen a dramatic decrease in criminal activity, and have together worked to close over 700 drug houses. INC has five full-time, paid staff members, a paid support staff of four, and is overseen by a Board of Directors which is comprised of 60 percent residents. Furthermore, through the Block Contact program, INC improved community cohesion, and a program called Positive Alternatives for Youth is providing opportunities to children. The Grown in Ivanhoe program teaches residents to grow their own food and opened a weekly Farmers’ Market that allows neighbors to purchase urban grown produce while also adding an economic benefit to the producers. Finally, to address the 40 percent vacancy rate, INC has a housing development initiative that is working to provide new construction housing to the current influx of interested individuals looking to making the Ivanhoe neighborhood their home.
The Ivanhoe story is a testament of how everyday people can organize themselves to take back their neighborhood through health and wellness. When the built environment is broken, it takes everyone on every block to work together to fix it. Ivanhoe went from being a neighborhood where drug dealers and criminals ruled the streets to one that is clean, beautiful, safe, and thriving. The momentum continues in Ivanhoe, and the community is proud to tell their story of how they took back their streets one block at a time.