With homicides spiking, Club KC wants to keep kids busy with drum lines, movies and games
The summer program is just the latest in a string of nighttime activities meant to keep kids busy in the summer and steer them away from guns and violence. But homicides — many of them involving kids and young adults — have topped 100 since 2015, and are on pace to set a record this year.
On a warm but not too hot Friday night in Kansas City’s Westside, drill teams and drum lines are getting ready for a Battle of the Bands-style showcase. One by one, each team performs before a crowd filled with their parents, friends and other community members curious to see the show.
In the parking lot of the Tony Aguirre Community Center, the crisp beats of a drumline performance are complemented by cheers and a choreographed dance routine from drill team members. This team — the Wildcats — wear matching purple shirts and black cowboy boots adorned with purple and green pom-poms.
“I think I did pretty good because I ended up tired after,” says 13-year-old Massiah Jones.
The Battle of the Bands event is one of several hosted by Club KC, a free summer youth program under the city’s parks and recreation department. Between the end of June and the beginning of August, kids can come to Club KC — hosted at both Aguirre and the Gregg/Klice Community Center at 18th and Vine — to play games, watch movies and hang out with their friends.
It’s one of the city’s efforts to stem the violence that has fallen heavily on the city’s youth and young adults. Advocates for summer programs that cater to young people see spaces like Club KC as especially important now, in a year that is on pace to be the deadliest the city has seen since 2020.
Juan Tabb is the executive director of the local youth nonprofit Arts Tech, which helps put on the program. He said they’re especially trying to draw in teens.
“Because if they're here, chances are they're not out in Kansas City with trouble finding them or in difficult situations,” he said in between drill team performances. “It's about empowering youth to make a better Kansas City. To push for a violence-free Kansas City, especially concerning youth.”
Youth and Violence
According to research from Everytown for Gun Safety, a national organization advocating for gun restrictions, U.S. youth ages 15 to 24 are 23 times more likely to be killed by guns than those in similar high-income countries.
In Kansas City this year, 10 kids under 17 have been victims of a homicide. Victims under 25 years old make up about 34% of all homicide victims in Kansas City so far this year. Nearly a quarter of this year’s homicides had suspects ages 18 to 24.
Just this week, a homicide on the 3700 block of East 8th Street claimed the lives of two teenagers.
Elected officials and organizers hope summer youth programs can lead to reductions in violence and better outcomes for children — and research from other cities shows some can be effective.
A New York City City program providing summer jobs to young people made participants 10% less likely to be incarcerated than their peers who didn’t participate — that number was even higher for participants older than 19. In Chicago, participating in a summer jobs program decreased violent crime arrests by 43% in the 16 months after kids finished the program.
There isn’t as much research on non-employment summer programs for youth, like Club KC. But the city also has an employment program.
For the past five years, Pat Clarke’s ENJOY program — Engineering, Neighborhoods and Job Opportunities for Youth — has provided job opportunities for teens.
This year, a group of two dozen kids aged 13 to 17 meet with Clarke every day. Some days their job is to clean up trash in a nearby neighborhood. Some days they practice cursive writing. Most days, Clarke checks in with the kids, asking them how they’re doing and how their life is at home.
Clarke says ENJOY is about preparing kids now, for later.
“It builds character,” Clarke said. “It builds structure.”
Clarke mentors this group of young teens. He hopes that working with them and teaching them about life will help them make wise decisions.
“‘Man, I'm so glad I didn't shoot this guy. Man, I'm glad I left so that guy couldn't shoot me,’” Clarke said. “It don't take nothing but a second. Those are the things that I instill in these kids.”
"It don't stop them," but it's something
The city has tried to prevent violence by providing young people more opportunities before. This year, the mayor is also hosting Hoops Nights, a series of nighttime basketball games. Before Mayor Quinton Lucas’s Club KC, there was Mayor Sly James’s Rock the Block events.
All the programs aimed to keep youth out of trouble and, in the long run, reduce violence.
But crime data paints a bleaker picture. Kansas City has seen more than 100 homicides recorded each year since 2015. 2023 is on pace to be the deadliest year on record, with 114 homicides so far.
Clarke does what he can to instill good values in his students, but he also knows he can’t protect them from the harsh realities outside their classroom. He said a kid in his program was shot about two weeks ago.
“I brag about taking the guns out of their hands and putting rakes and shovels and brooms and all of that type of stuff in there,” he said. “It don't stop them from carrying guns or buying guns. ”