Jean-Paul Chaurand knows he may be about to become political roadkill, splattered on the windshield of a very fast-moving crusade to rename The Paseo after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
But Chaurand, who has been president of Kansas City’s Board of Parks and Recreation for seven years, is standing firm. The name of the street, for now, will remain The Paseo, he has declared. The board is proposing that a commission be established to determine the best way to honor the late civil rights leader. Mayor Sly James is to announce the panel’s formation Friday.
Never mind that the city’s black ministers, a potent political force, are determined to change the name. Never mind that they are talking about marches and protests to get the job done. Never mind that Chaurand is taking his stand virtually 50 years to the day that King was assassinated and that Kansas City may be the nation’s largest city not to have a street named for King.
And there’s one more. Chaurand is taking a principled stand at a time of high emotion around King’s death as so many Kansas Citians grapple with the disappointment that not nearly enough has changed in that half-century. The renaming of The Paseo is one thing that could change, symbolic though it may be.
Meantime, Chaurand stands his ground, and if it bothers him that this political freight train is bearing down on him at 100 mph, he isn’t letting on. In fact, he doesn’t see it that way at all.
“This isn’t us versus them,” he said.
Chaurand, a Kansas City native who grew up on the west side, thinks now’s the right time to hold a citywide conversation about commemorating King. That conversation could include phone calls to King family members to get their views.
To him, it’s not whether King should be commemorated; it’s how this should be done.
In Chaurand’s view, the board must handle name changes with care. These days, it seems everybody wants to name a parks asset after somebody. People are interested in renaming tennis courts, even benches.
The board has had a naming policy in place since 1975, and it stipulates that the practice is to “honor individuals who have made significant and outstanding contributions of land, funds, goods or services” to the city. The focus is to be on Kansas Citians.
If you make an exception for King, who without a doubt made substantial contributions to Kansas City and every city in the country, then you could have a problem. Somebody will want to rename a street after President Barack Obama or Abraham Lincoln. “When does it end?” Chaurand said.
Kansas Citians are calling the board these days with ideas. What about renaming Troost Avenue, the city’s traditional racial dividing line? What about renaming Ward Parkway? What about renaming an east-west thoroughfare, such as 63rd Street, that stretches into Kansas and urging municipalities on that side of the state line to rename the street, too, in a sign of unity?
All are worthy ideas. Chaurand talked to the ministers about a broader conversation, and there was no interest, he said. “It was their way or the highway.”
The ministers, after all, have been pushing this idea for awhile now. No one else had stepped forward. African Americans are still waiting, waiting for so much. Now they want a name change, and Chaurand wants to create a commission.
He’s not wrong. He’s just not right today.
I’m putting my money on the ministers.