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For Some Teens In Kansas City, Kansas, 'Making It' Doesn't Mean 'Making It Out'

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Andrea Tudhope
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KCUR 89.3
Fourteen-year-old LaNya Meade grew up thinking she needed to make it out of her community in northeast Kansas City, Kansas, to make it in life. Now, she and others in her community are challenging that narrative.

Growing up in Northeast Kansas City, Kansas, LaNya Meade, 14, remembers her mom saying she didn’t want LaNya to get stuck here.

“And so I always thought like, okay, I need to work my hardest and be the best so that I could make it out,” she says.

It’s a familiar refrain for many teens in the area around Quindaro Boulevard. But it’s a refrain many residents, young and old, are hoping to change.

Fourteen-year-old Nicholas Brass knows it well.

“It’s very important to know where you are from so you can make it successful in life, and know what you need to do to get out,” he says.

Kalia London, also 14, feels the same way. 

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Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
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KCUR 89.3
Kalia London goes to Wilson's Pizza at 18th and Quindaro every weekend. Gary Wilson, the owner, always asks her about school and her family. And London always orders 'pizza fries' - like a pizza with french fries for the crust.

“If I'm going to start a new section of my life, this isn't where I want to do it,” she says.

London, who has grown up living on the boulevard, says she hears gunshots most nights.

A string of retaliatory violence over the past few years has taken the lives of at least five teenagers, some not too far from here. Police don’t have many answers, but if you spend any time listening to the community, you get the sense that teens are the ones doing the killing. 

But London says sometimes the negative perception of her community hurts more than the violence itself. She says she’s overheard teachers, who aren’t from the same communities as the kids, talking about their students. 

“‘They'll never amount to anything, if they don't get out. We're going to have to help them. We're going to have to save them,’” she remembers. “It’s just not true.”

Even though she might not want to stay, London’s proud of where she’s from. 

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Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
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KCUR 89.3
Jaymond Glass, 13, spends every day at his grandma's house near North 20th Street and Quindaro Boulevard. He says he wants to see empty lots and old storefronts on the boulevard to fill up, and he thinks the area could use a hospital of its own.

“We're the best community to have, ‘cause when we need it, we all band together,” she says. 

For Meade, it was when she tapped into that sense of community that something clicked.  

“I could 100% make it out. But also I could stay here and help make it better,” she says.

So, in whatever spare time she has outside of school and the four college classes she’s already taking as a freshman at Wyandotte High School, Meade does her best to change that narrative.

“I think that if I can help make it better then other people will also join in and help and say, ‘Oh, it does matter what happens up the block. It does matter what's going on in the streets,’” she says.

And she’s not alone.

Micki Wells and her husband Clayton Wells, who were themselves teens growing up on the boulevard back in the day, are working to buy an old building near 18th and Quindaro to build a place called the Hangout. 

They want it to be a safe place for teens to come after school, do homework and learn leadership skills — not to mention a place to nurture that sense of community they both felt as kids on Quindaro in today’s youth. 

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Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
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KCUR 89.3
It's been a few decades since Micki and Clayton Wells were teenagers on Quindaro Boulevard. Now, the couple wants to give back to the community by building a space just for teenagers in this old building next door to Wilson's Pizza.

“When we grew up, we knew, yeah, this was our hood. This is where we are from, this is who we are,” Clayton Wells says.

“Our kids need to see the value in their community. They need to know, you know what? So what, you live on Quindaro? Quindaro was great,” Micki Wells says.

She says as a young person, she spent almost all of her time at her grandma’s house, just across from the old Safeway grocery store at 21st and Quindaro. That house was like their version of the Hangout. Neighborhood kids would play ball in the front yard and eat meals together — kids like Maurice Green, the four-time Olympic medalist and five-time world champion in sprinting. He went to F.L. Schlagle High School, and their grandmas were neighbors.

“It's funny to me because we used to jump rope and he was younger than us and so we might have bossed him around just a little bit,” she laughed. “But kids knew how to have fun because it was okay to be a kid.”

“That's the whole thing,” Clayton Wells says. “We’re always trying to figure out how to bring Quindaro back.”

That starts, he says, with the youth. 

At this point, their idea is still a pipe dream. The building they’re eyeing is in bad shape, and they have yet to find the owner. He thinks it could cost up to $1 million to buy it, gut it and transform it into the Hangout and an upstairs office space for local nonprofits.

But, he says, it’s worth it. 

“We have to pour something into them so that when they grow up, they have something to pour back into other people,” he says. “If you don't pour anything into them now, why would they come back?”

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @andreatudhope.

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