Fresh Eyes: From an ambassador to Kansas City

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Kristen Jeffersby Kristen Jeffers

Roughly six weeks ago, after loading almost all of my worldly possessions into a moving truck, relatives helped me pack the rest into two cars and we departed our southwest Greensboro home at about 5 a.m., navigating the freeways past my father’s gravesite at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, on a hill created due to the cutting in of new highway.

Within an hour, I’d left the Triad. In roughly 48 more, I’d have wound my way in the caravan through six states and the entire length of Missouri, where I would disembark Interstate 70 into my new home: Kansas City.

That’s the simple, physical way I describe leaving Greensboro. But it doesn’t scratch the surface of why I psychologically moved.

There were years where I was happy staying put. Those of you who knew me personally knew that I was constantly writing about the state of said city, both the good and the bad, but probably more of the bad.

Yet, on a bad day, I’d call up a friend and soon I’d be on the grass at NewBridge Bank Park, enjoying a Natty’s brew and venting our way back into being the do-good, world-changers we really were, who truly loved our city. If it was winter, we’d do this sitting at the Natty Greene’s second floor bar.

Even when I exposed flaws in how we see our neighbors, especially when it came to how we walked and carried ourselves on the downtown streets, I still knew we could all party on the pattern I helped paint on February One — the very block against whose patron saints I was juxtaposed in this publication earlier this year, as we continued our work to make the dreams and desires embodied by the courageous A&T Four come completely true.

‘You are only free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.’

How could I leave a city that supplied me endless Biscuitville, cupcakes worth standing in line for at Maxie B’s and food served at establishments owned by families of folks I considered friends, colleagues and classmates? Where not just one, but two fellow young black professionals are sitting on its city council? That, along with Winston-Salem, does festivals like no other (seriously, if you’re coming into town for the National Folk Festival, you will learn).

It’s simple. One must see that the grass they sometimes think is brown is really always green. And that’s true even for metros that seem to steal so many away from Greensboro. The Raleighs, Charlottes, DCs, Chicagos, Atlantas and New Yorks. And even this Kansas City, where mine seems to be the only North Carolina license plate in the line of cars outside my mid-city apartment building.

Here, suburbia is really suburbia and the city is really the city, with more than 450 million inside its limits and another 2 million in the metro area, twice as large as Greensboro and the Triad. Good luck finding a big-box store north of the 40th Street. Oh, and forget a street numbering pattern that exists only in a long-absorbed mill village. Hundreds of numbered streets form the metropolis, consisting of 7,000 square miles total, split between two states, 15 counties and dozens of municipalities.

Slaw doesn’t come on hot dogs here, but they do this cool thing called burnt ends with their barbecue, which suits me just fine, as I’ve never been a vinegar sauce fan. I know, don’t start.

Yet, what brought me to Kansas City, other than needing to leave the family nest, is the ability to make a passion a livelihood. Back home, I was on the transit board, the bike/ped advisory committee and the bikeshare task force, and balanced slightly unrelated full-time jobs. Here, it’s 100 percent bike and pedestrian advocacy, with a bonus of helping run a bikeshare system. Although the Gate City has the ingredients for a robust bike/ped advocacy group, I couldn’t duplicate my current job in Greensboro.

So here I am.

One thing’s clear, though. I am still part of Greensboro. I am its ambassador, sharing the stories of our recent struggles of self-governance, and the awesomeness of a local fast food chain that creates magic only between 5 a.m. and 2 p.m. Maybe some Kansas City folks who need a change of scenery will hear one of those stories and consider the Triad.

And I make manifest the words of one of the Triad’s greatest transplants, the late Maya Angelou, words I mentioned before in this very publication: “You are only free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”

Kristen Jeffers is author of A Black Urbanist, a Greensboro native and currently resides in Kansas City, Mo., where she is the communications and membership manager for BikeWalk KC.