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Artists, Dancers And City Leaders Take to KC Streetcar for Virtual Black History Month Celebration

Storytelling on the Streetcar on the Streetcar 2021-02-23 at 11.41.38 AM.png
KC Streetcar Authority
Kadesh Flow performed alongside NuBlvckCity at Friday's virtual celebration.

After the events of last summer’s protests and the ongoing pandemic, Streetcar Authority officials say they "couldn’t take a break” from holding this year’s Black History Month Celebration.

Artists, dancers and community activists are heading to the KC Streetcar this evening to kick off its Third Annual Black History Month Celebration.

Unlike past years, ‘Storytelling on the Streetcar: Celebrating Black Culture’ will be held virtually amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Donna Mandelbaum, the Streetcar Authority’s communications manager, says they were able to hold last year’s event just before the pandemic began. It was also before the social unrest and civil rights movement that rose last summer.

She says these events made it more important than ever that the event continue this year.

“We did not want anything to stop us from doing the good work of helping promote the amazing artists, dancers, musicians, poets, all those wonderful individuals and communities here in Kansas City, that make our cities such a great place to live and work in,” said Mandelbaum.

“And we thought, well, we can't take a break. This is storytelling that needs to happen not just one month, and not just one year, but every year.”

KC Streetcar Authority
No longer confined within the Streetcar, students at the UMKC Conservatory School of Dance perform against the backdrop of Union Station.

Mandelbaum said the next step was figuring out how to tell that story virtually. Instead of being a challenge, she says the new format allowed them more creativity by not constraining them within the walls of the streetcar or to a specific date.

This year’s celebration will feature music, hip hop and rap, spoken word and poetry, modern dance and conversations with community leaders like special guest Mayor Quinton Lucas.

Artists include Poet Sheri Purpose Hall, Poet t.l. sanders, NuBlvckCity with They Call Me Sauce, Kartez Marcel, Love, Mae C., and Kadesh Flow, Tristian Griffin Dance Company and Choreographer Michael Blake and the UMKC Conservatory School of Dance.

Sanders says the street car will be a space for people to come together after the events of the last year and “speak to these moments in history.”

“I think that sometimes we relegate Black history to February and so the events that take place in February have an end date. You must realize that Black history is American history, and every day we have opportunities to make history together,” said Sanders.

KC Streetcar Authority
Poet t.l. sanders is one of the artists that participated in this year's virtual celebration.

Sanders’ performance will include a reference to Civil Rights icons like Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Jennings Graham and Rosa Parks, who he says all have their own connection to transportation.

In a nod to Parks, he says he hopes his work gives others “the courage to remain on the bus.”

Mandelbaum says she also hopes the streetcar will remain as a space for others to have conversations about race and learn more about the different cultures in Kansas City.

“The streetcar is more than just a form of transit, it's a way to experience our city. We find there's so many stories here in Kansas City, ones that we're familiar with, and ones that we're not. And what we're hoping is people will learn a little bit more about each other,” said Mandelbaum.

The event will premiere live Friday at 7 p.m. on KC Streetcar’s YouTube and Facebook page.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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