Standing on the corner of Armour Boulevard and Troost Avenue in Kansas City, 21 year-old Troy Robertson holds a sign that says: “My life Matters. Honk if your life matters.”
His protest comes as Kansas City is experiencing an increase in homicides, compared with this time last years. As of Oct. 5, the city reported 76 homicides, compared with 59 by the same date a year prior, according to the Kansas City Police Department.
Robertson says violence — and hearing gun shots —has become part of his everyday life in Kansas City.
He says he can’t remember the last time one of his friends died of natural causes.
"Another one of my friends dies, I think I might lose my mind,” he says.
Holding that sign up is a coping mechanism, says Donald Lang, a grief support counselor at Ad Hoc Group Against Crime in Kansas City's east side.
“It’s what keeps him sane," Lang told Central Standard host Gina Kaufmann Tuesday. "If he didn’t do that, then yes he would go psychotic … It sounds bizarre, it sounds pathological, but that’s the way he copes.”
Before becoming a grief counselor, Lang worked in the mental health sector. Two years ago, his cousin’s son was murdered. That prompted Lang to want to help people deal with loss.
At Ad Hoc, Lang brings families that have been directly and indirectly affected by violence to try and bring some kind of meaning in what’s happened to them – so they can grow and find a sense of hope.
Coping with crime ended up morphing into neighborhood pride for Katie Greer, who lives in Kansas City's Historic Northeast neighborhood.
Greer was attracted to the neighborhood because of its old, lofty homes. She says she saw the Historic Northeast for its potential — and not its violent reputation.
But after moving into the neighborhood, she experienced a break-in.
Greer says she knew who broke into her home. She also knew she would see him again — but she wasn't going to let that push her into hiding. She also didn't let it force her to leave.
“I see living my life the way I want to live it, not letting other people impose their fear upon me," Greer says. "Using my imagination and my creativity to say — yes this is a place that has some problems – but I feel like I can be a part of the solution."
Jennifer Cotto is a community engagement intern for KCUR. You can follow her on Twitter @newsproducerjen.
KCUR contributor Esther Honig contributed to this report.