A high school senior in a gray sweatshirt with the words “Senior 16” across the front stood up and began talking in front of the group.
“I am biracial. I am Hispanic and African American so I know both of those struggles.”
He then proceeded to capture the audience of students with his ideas on how Hispanics can advance in the United States. After his mesmerizing speech, the whole room began to cheer.
Gary Enrique Bradley-Lopez is a senior at Wyandotte High School. He is one of the 18 students chosen to attend the Troost Bus Tour field trip. The field trip gave students a look at all different communities in Kansas City, ranging from 63rd Street in Mission Hills to Troost Avenue, and included a total of 40 landmarks, like Walt Disney’s childhood house. The landmarks are all apart of American developer of commercial and residential real estate J.C. Nichols plan to separate Kansas City.
Social studies teacher David Muhammad and english teacher Samantha Feinberg went on the trip from East, while Tim Stauffer and Cynthia de la Rosa came from Wyandotte.
According to the teachers, Nichols created Mission Hills to be a place for wealthy, Christian, white people to raise their families. They could go to a country club and shop at the plaza without crossing the boundary set at Troost. The part of the city past Troost was meant for low income families.
The “line” Nichols created is still prominent today. According to the book, My Best Friends are Black, the majority of people living on the west side of Troost are white, with most of the minorities living on the east side. It also states that white realtors used to bring the scariest, biggest black men to the doors of houses owned by white people, to tell them that he would be moving into the neighborhood. This scared many white people out of the east side and into the west side.
This rapid movement of white people leaving, or the “white flight”, was caused by blockbusting. Blockbusting is the practice of introducing African American homeowners into all white neighborhoods, sparking rapid white flight and housing price decline. The houses became cheap, allowing low- income families to purchase nice houses that were formerly owned by white people.
De la Rosa wanted her students to understand that they can change the boundaries.
“This is something that is intentional and is happening systemwide,” de la Rosa said. “If you look around and have your eyes open to the things around you [things can change.]”
However, this experience allows the students from Wyandotte to travel beyond their bubble and see what the other side of Troost looks like. That is one of the main reasons that the teachers from Wyandotte and East want to continue to hold events like the Troost Tour. They also hope to have Wyandotte students shadow East students, and vice versa. However, de la Rosa is concerned that this will only be beneficial for East students.
“I was concerned that possibly there would be more gains for students at Shawnee Mission East, and it’s a kind of “open your eyes guys look there is poverty and racism around you,” de la Rosa said. “The students from Wyandotte are kind of living that day- to-day.”
Although at first de la Rosa was worried it wouldn’t be beneficial, she did find one benefit for Wyandotte students; it could make them angry at the education system. It would make them stand up and fight.
According to Tim Stauffer, an English teacher at Wyandotte, students need to start the fight against segregation and need to be aware of exactly why they are being segregated. Stauffer wants his students to learn as much as they can; he wants them to talk about how they feel.
“I think it’s like breaking down the barriers that still divide us, as opposed to arguing whether or not they’re barriers,” Stauffer said. “There’s racism and there’s discrimination, and it’s not just people, so let’s talk about where we go from here.”
Where we go, Stauffer says, is up to this generation. This starts with voting, and altering the way they talk about people that don’t look and act like them. From there, schools can become less segregated by learning to live together.
“If we can get students to break down and become public citizens and have a debate across different divides, it will help them in the adult world,” Stauffer said.