In first meeting, PV diversity task force tackles racist deed restrictions, considers BLM mural

Prairie Village's newly-established diversity task force met virtually Tuesday and brainstormed ideas for attracting and keeping diverse residents. One of the ideas discussed was demonstrating support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Above, protesters gather in Prairie Village last summer following the killing of George Floyd. 

The city of Prairie Village’s diversity task force Tuesday discussed ways to potentially strike racially discriminatory deed restrictions and brainstormed events and other potential policy changes in its first-ever meeting.

The task force, created under Mayor Eric Mikkelson’s direction, is charged with developing recommendations for the city council’s approval in an effort to attract and retain residents of color.

Above, task force members consider ways to promote inclusion during the group’s first meeting Tuesday.

Redlining and racially restrictive covenants has contributed to why Prairie Village is 95% white today, Mikkelson said, and the city’s history, rooted in such racist policies, continues to have lasting effects. Although the task force’s work will be difficult, Mikkelson said it will hopefully change the city for the better and the experiences of residents for generations to come.

“This won’t be easy, it’s going to ruffle some features,” Mikkelson said. “It’s going to undoubtedly upset some people along the way — in fact, it already has the mere existence of this task force does not sit well with some people. With your help we’ll move the needle on this so that five, 10, 20 years from now, hopefully we’ll be looking at a Prairie Village that is excellent in every category that it has today and that it is much more diverse than it is today.”

Where the county, city currently stands

Prior to the brainstorming session, the task force heard from city staff and Kathryn Evans, a United Community Services of Johnson County representative. Evans spoke to the county’s history with racial inequity, specifically when it comes to home ownership, and recent efforts by her organization to help Johnson County grapple with its history.

Evans also spoke about the added disparity COVID-19 has placed on people of color, who are dying from the pandemic at disproportionate rates. She said this disparity coupled with the historic lack of opportunities for people of color to live in Johnson County is an example of how access to housing, healthcare and good wages are all connected.

Major Byron Roberson, a Black officer with the Prairie Village Police Department, presented on the three areas PVPD focuses on: hiring, education and monitoring of officer work. Roberson said education deals with training on racial profiling and implicit bias. Recently, the department discussed the general distrust communities of color have for the police, which has reached a more urgent pitch after months of nationwide demonstrations demanding social justice and police accountability.

“I think the officers kind of can understand sometimes why there’s maybe some animosity particularly from communities of color toward the police because of the way the police have been used and our history,” Roberson said.

The diversity task force was created under Mayor Eric Mikkelson’s direction, and he said these efforts will hopefully lead to better outcomes for the city in five to 20 years. File photo.

Additionally, Roberson told the story of how a Black man who built his Overland Park home in 1966 recently visited the house and told Roberson how he and the Black community were afraid to drive through Prairie Village at one point because of the police.

Roberson said, looking back, he became a police officer to ensure nobody felt that way in any community.

Deputy City Administrator Jamie Robichaud spoke about Village Vision 2.0, the update to the city’s comprehensive plan. Robichaud said two of the five goals from Village Vision 2.0, quality public spaces and strong neighborhoods, directly relate to the diversity task force’s aims.

Robichaud said the city is exploring ways to strategically preserve its existing housing stock and deemphasize automobile usage to support diversity efforts. More information about Village Vision 2.0 can be found online here.

Black Lives Matter mural considered

Following the city and UCS presentations, the task force dove into specific ideas on how to attract and retain residents of color.

The 11-person task force — five of whom are directly involved with the city in some capacity, whether it be employment or the governing body — came up with the following list:

  • Host cultural festivals to introduce all residents to — and celebrate — several races and ethnicities.
  • Banners along Mission Road to show support for diverse groups, including the support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • A Black Lives Matter mural combined with a social justice education initiative in some form.
  • A potential town hall or open forum about social justice and race.
  • Partnering with libraries for a diverse literature initiative for children and teenagers.
  • Explore ways to hear more voices, in an effort to get feedback from residents.
  • Partnering with another Kansas City metro city that deals with poverty more so than Prairie Village, to think outside of the city itself.
  • Decriminalize marijuana in Prairie Village, as people of color are disproportionately charged and arrested for marijuana possession nationwide.
  • A statement about the necessity of the task force to address those who negatively reacted to its creation, as mentioned by Mikkelson earlier in the evening.

Jameelah Lang, a task force member and woman of color who was yelled at in her yard by a man upset by a Black Lives Matter protest this summer, said the committee should consider its predominantly white composition.

Jameelah Lang, center, said she thinks there’s a disconnect between the justice-minded city and the lack of education being transferred to the community. Above, Jameelah is participating in a Black Lives Matter march this summer. File photo.

“I think that there is a real disconnect between the city council, the Prairie Village Police Department — these are very justice-minded, thoughtful organizations — and the way that education is being transferred to our community, or the lack of transfer of education to our community” said Lang.

Mikkelson said he set the task force’s 11-person cap in an effort to ensure productivity, and the two members who did not attend the Tuesday meeting are both Black men. Despite the cap, Mikkelson said he is open to expanding the task force with one or two more people of color if that is the will of the committee.

Additionally, the task force discussed racially restrictive deeds at length, including avenues that could strike the restrictions from the record. The task force came to the consensus that the restrictive deed language needs to be removed, and though the process on how to get there is unclear and potentially convoluted, several members expressed willingness to dedicate their labor to the cause.

The task force will meet as many times as needed, Mikkelson said, though a second meeting date has not yet been set.