Rosedale Ridge is closing. The Kansas City, Kan., apartment complex failed to meet building code in the fall, and, despite the displacement of families, it will shut down. The renovations weren’t enough; the ones that really matter are big and expensive. By summer’s end, these families will be relocated. This situation says a lot about how much communication and mutual respect matter. It also says a lot about money and race.
I have volunteered in an after school program at Rosedale Ridge for a year. There’s a lot we — the volunteers — don’t know. The kids’ stories and situations are either worse or better than we imagine. We mentor roughly 20 kids, reading, playing games, gardening, doing artwork and taking field trips. We piece together their lives from those interactions; we fill in the blanks with our imaginations.
We now — along with the rest of Kansas City — have some facts. The black mold spreading through the units is a primary concern, along with others, like the holes through which rats crawl. The mold is like the cycle of fear and violence there — it grows, it spreads. The kids have told us that Rosedale Ridge is a place where people grow up to join gangs. There are frequent shootings.
I often don’t have the imagination to hope in my own life, especially when I can’t see a solution or control the outcome. But the kids at Rosedale Ridge give me hope. They make me believe in resiliency and restoration and potential. They show incredible promise, intellect and creativity, and I want them to have a fair chance.
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Troynae would rather play a game she creates than anything we suggest; she can stick with the themes, ideas or materials available, but she will make it her own. Ramone collects containers to grow vegetables in his room, and it frustrates him that he can’t keep tomatoes alive. Santana draws fiery comic strip characters that would make professional artists jealous. Months ago, when Kamara kept calling me pretty, I replied “Naw — I’m OK.” She looked like she might cry: “Why would you ever say that about yourself?”
That moment — how right she was — won’t leave me.
My hope that Rosedale Ridge will stay open is foolish, and I mourn not only the loss of these families’ homes but also my relationships there. Construction workers are gutting the apartments and reworking exteriors, cleansing either for rebirth or death. I know that leaving Rosedale might actually be better. Though I want to protect them there, leaving might rescue them. A few families have already left, and some have even gotten entire houses.
Last week, we ran laps around the complex. Andrew sprinted and jogged and sprinted some more, holding my hand. He told me about the medals he won at preschool field day; he’d had to leave them at the house in Missouri, but he didn’t mind because someone else could have them. And that ability to yield to life’s impermanence, to let go, to hope for good despite uncertainty, is precisely the hope and imagination I lack.
My hope is selfish. I don’t want to say goodbye. Our hugs will be quick, and then they’ll run off to the next thing. And when they run off, they may be gone forever.
But even if they are, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. To hope is to believe the unseen. It’s to imagine things greater than the constraints of our own imaginations, to see more. This problem, and others of race and poverty in our city, can get better. We may not know how, but it starts with hope.
Kara M. Bollinger is a writer and college instructor who lives in Kansas City.