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New Ryan Stokes Memorial Basketball Court honors a man killed by a Kansas City police officer

Ryan Stokes' former basketball coach, Derek Howard, raises a finger with family and friends as a reminder to Stokes to "play some defense."
Jodi Fortino
KCUR 89.3
Ryan Stokes' high school basketball coach, Derek Howard, raises a finger with family and friends, recalling his reminder to Stokes to "play some defense."

Family and friends hope the Ryan Stokes Memorial Basketball Court near East 40th Street and Wayne Avenue will restore the name of a man killed in 2013 by a Kansas City police officer.

A man killed by a Kansas City Police Department officer was memorialized through a basketball court unveiled on Saturday.

Ryan Stokes, who was Black, was killed by a KCPD officer near the Power & Light District in 2013 after being falsely accused of stealing an intoxicated white man’s cell phone, a KCUR investigation found.

Narene Stokes, Ryan Stokes’ mother, said she wanted the memorial court to highlight what kind of person her son was.

“It’s just so great to have had this and know that Ryan was a true advocate of ball, and family and friends. It fits, it just fits,” Stokes said.

Located at Harris Park near East 40th Street and Wayne Avenue, the court is where her son practiced nearly every day during his childhood, honing his skills and lifelong love for the game, Stokes said.

The memorial was created in collaboration with Christopher Harris, the park’s founder, who said he watched Ryan Stokes play there for a decade.

Family and friends play a game on the new Ryan Stokes Memorial Basketball Court.
Jodi Fortino
KCUR 89.3
Family and friends play a game on the new Ryan Stokes Memorial Basketball Court.

The court features a mural designed and painted by Sike Style Industries and Yup Yup design. It shows a pair of sneakers and the word “Fatback,” a nickname coined by Stokes’ coach at Southeast High School, Derek Howard.

Howard spoke at Saturday’s ribbon cutting ceremony.

“I have never met a more passionate, a more dedicated person to this sport,” Howard said. “And for a name that loved and respected this game and gave his heart and soul for this game, for this to be on the court, is an absolutely amazing thing.”

Several of Stokes' former teammates were in attendance at the court’s unveiling, which Howard said was a testament to Stokes’ character.

The Stokes family’s attorney, Cyndy Short, said she hoped the memorial would continue to show that character to Ryan's daughter, Neriah Stokes, who is now nine years old.

“Everything that we did in terms of restoring Ryan’s name was done for Neriah, so that she could look on the internet, she could look anywhere around the city and see how wonderful a father that she was blessed with,” Short said.

Narene Stokes said she hoped the court would serve as a place for children in the neighborhood to come and play, while she can take the time to sit, meditate and remember her son.

She said the court is just the first step in restoring justice for Ryan Stokes.

In 2020, a federal judge ruled that the Kansas City Police officer who shot and killed Stokes used “reasonable” deadly force. The family is appealing the ruling and another wrongful death lawsuit is now before the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Narene Stokes said beyond justice in a court of law, she also wants an annual basketball tournament and scholarship in her son’s name. She said that would show they “mean business” about restorative justice for Ryan.

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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