Race, Place, & Diversity
While many people know Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey for their work in bringing the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Ailey II to Kansas City, the organization is also responsible for bringing the community together for culturally diverse programming not strictly tied to dance. Prominent in that schedule is their annual Race, Place & Diversity (RPD) event—this year cochaired by Calvin Ricks and Peg VanWagoner—which recognizes one local and one national individual for their work in bringing about change through diversity, equity, and inclusion.
This year’s recipient of the RPD Community Award was Qiana Thomason, the president and CEO of the Health Forward Foundation. In accepting her award, Quiana delivered a powerful keynote where she spoke personally about the foundation’s work on improving health equity in communities with wide health disparities, and as she put it, “ensuring that race and place are not determinants, nor influencers, of health, of wealth, and longevity.” Through Quiana’s leadership, the foundation also just received a $15 million unrestricted gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. Major.
We were also thrilled to be joined by Jackie Joyner-Kersee, winner of six Olympic medals (three gold) across an astonishing span of four Olympic games, and “Female Athlete of the 20th Century,” according to Sports Illustrated. She remains a multiple world-record holder and is a living legend. Jackie received the RPD National Award and simultaneously became the inaugural Hoffman Legacy Honoree, generously endowed by my friends Sharon & John Hoffman.
Jackie then participated in a fireside conversation with KSHB news anchor Dia Wall. Jackie spoke about what it was like competing while suffering from asthma—astounding. She also talked about what it felt like, knowing the outsized role she played in paving the way for minority female representation and equity in sports. But more important to Jackie than these lofty laurels, is her ongoing work at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation, which serves youth in East St. Louis, focusing on after-school programs, camps, athletic lessons, safe recreational places within the community, and caring adults to guide them in achieving their dreams. She spoke with humility about flying home from her freshman year at USC, where she was attending on a scholarship, to be with her mother who had fallen gravely ill overnight with meningitis. Jackie was left with the heart-wrenching decision of ending her mother’s life support—she died shortly thereafter. Seeking somewhere that she could be wrapped in love, Jackie went to the community center of her youth, only to find it padlocked. She vowed that one day she would reopen the center. With no resources to speak of, she flew back to LA to “see where that would take her.” You know the rest. It was a moving story from a selfless person who deserves much recognition. It’s stories like these that keep me coming back to this event each year.
Finally—a shameless plug. I will be cochairing, along with Jamila Weaver, the KCFAA annual gala on March 25, 2023. The event will bring the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre back to Kansas City and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts for the first time in six years. It’s been too long, and a glorious return it shall be. Sponsorships and tickets are available now. I would love to see your faces there.
Spotted: Bunni & Paul Copaken, Maurice Watson, Ann Baum, Katie Kwo Gerson, Andrea Feinberg, Dianne Cleaver, Erica & Lorin Crenshaw, Lynn & Lance Carlton, Kim Klein, Alfredo Garcia, Melanie & Skip Miller, Tyrone Aiken, Cathy Jolly, Tammy Edwards, Gina & John Hull, Julianne & Lee Story, Kelly Murphy, Kevin Zimmerman, Debbie & Jerry Williams, Debby & Gary Ballard, Dr. Marjorie Williams, Jane & Keith Gard, Carolyne Gakuria, Donna & Charles Davis, Jamie Allen, Siobhan McLaughlin-Lesley, Pat Konopka, Zach Rose-Heim, Dr. Karen Curls
Overheard: “The only thing thin about me right now is my blood.”
Tour de Renaissance
Whenever I find myself heading over to the Kansas City Museum for yet another piece of terrific programming, I make it a point to get a little lost. If you’ve been to that part of town, you can understand why. The streets of the Scarritt Renaissance neighborhood in the historic Northeast are a Kansas City time capsule.
On this trip, though, I was not headed for the museum. I learned about the Northeast Kansas City Historical Society’s annual fall homes tour just in time for the next two to be canceled during the pandemic. So this year, I was raring to go. It also happened to be the perfect autumn day to be outside in a puffer vest, falling leaves swirling around me.
This year’s tour featured seven historic homes and one neighborhood church, all located in the southwest portion of the Scarritt Renaissance neighborhood. Hilariously, these grand, “suburban” homes (barely a mile from downtown) were built on what was rural farmland. The owners built these stately homes to escape the bustle of downtown life.
We began our tour at the St. Francis, a former eight-unit, Classical Revival-style, brick apartment building. Or, it was once an apartment building. Now, in the hands of owners Jason Milbradt & Michael Stringer, it has become a quite-large home, plus one Airbnb apartment and a community room on the ground floor. Complete with original fireplaces, windows, doors, and an iron and marble central staircase—the sheer size was almost overwhelming.
Nearby, we dropped into Saint Anthony’s Catholic Church. Formerly Assumption Catholic Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the church was built in 1922. The style is Roman Mission, with buff red brick, and stained-glass windows that came from Munich, Germany. The church was recently renovated in preparation for this year’s centennial celebration.
Also on Benton Boulevard was the Laura Brozovich & Lucas Hutmacher residence—probably the most impressive on the tour. It’s a large, three-story brick Victorian, with a twin home directly to the north. The original owner was Michael George Heim, and the twin home belonged to his brother, Ferdinand Heim. The Heim Brothers—heard of them? Well, their names have appeared here before when I mentioned the massive 45,000-square-foot historic Heim Brewing Company bottling house in nearby Electric Park—now home to the gorgeous J. Rieger & Co. distillery. Based on the size of these homes, the beer biz must have been hoppin’. Until it wasn’t. Yeah, prohibition. The home was sold, and the new owners added a swimming pool, where tragically, one of their children drowned. The pool was filled, and the house was donated to the Church of the Assumption across the street, for use as a (very nice) convent. The convent operated there until 1972, when it was sold again, and then again, to the current owners, who have carefully returned the home to its original 1895 appearance.
Hot Gossip: Whose birthday turned into a bloody brawl? “Clean up on aisle…?”
Another stunner was the Coats house, built in 1901 by Dr. Oliver Price Coats, a specialist in treating opium and morphine addiction. More of a mansion than a house, the cut-stone, tiled-roof home was his for but a few years before he died of heart trouble. The home was left to his daughter, who immediately sold it for the high sum of $30,000 in 1906. It was later owned by John DiSalvo, a cabaret keeper and bootlegger, known as “King of Little Italy’s Underworld.” Owned now by Shane Allen Wilson, the property has been extensively renovated and restored.
My final stop was the Wakefield Mansion, built in 1904 by Mr. and Mrs. William Henry Harrison Wakefield, owners of Wakefield Mantel and Tile Company. The brick and red-tiled home was built as a showcase of the most expensive and modern tiles of the era—with different sizes and colors in every room. Just seven years after being built, Mr. Wakefield passed away (I sense a trend), and the home was converted into a nursing home, which it remained for many decades. The current owners, Ken & Deborah Richardson, have for 13 years been toiling to convert it back to a single-family residence, but it’s been slow going, and the work remains roughly halfway done. One stunning completion is the kitchen, with its original, gleaming, floor-to-ceiling emerald-green tiles.
After working up an appetite and caffeine deficit, I decided to drop by one of the event’s sponsors—nearby PH Coffee. It’s a charming coffee shop and community gathering place in the adjacent Pendleton Heights neighborhood. I snagged a giant cappuccino and one of the warm, savory scones of the bacon, cheddar, and chive variety. Seriously good. While waiting, I spotted their brisket breakfast burrito on the menu, but choices had been made. I will be back, though. With a successful day in the books, I headed home. But on the way, true to form—I allowed myself to get a little bit lost.
Overheard: “She said you were planning to wear ‘slacks’ to the party. I said—there’s no way he’d use that word.”
After (yet another) two-year hiatus, I was pleased to attend the annual ArtFare event, presented by the Vanderslice Committee, in support of the Kansas City Art Institute. The evening is a thrilling collaboration of artists and chefs paired with one another, with each chef drawing inspiration from a particular artwork. It’s a genius concept, and you can understand why this format wasn’t well-suited for Zoom. You’ve gotta be there.
My personal artwork-award-of-the-night would definitively go to a painting by Harold Smith. In his signature style, the man with a vivid blue torso, green face, and lemon-yellow hair and mustache—all against a fuchsia background—was mesmerizing. Sofia Hudson at Swoon had her translation work cut out for her. She took a literal approach and essentially “painted”—with icing—quite-convincing replicas of Harold’s two paintings onto a grid of hundreds of small square cookies. Her culinary artwork was almost too incredible to destroy by eating.
The most spectacular food display went to Taco Naco, with its brightly colored tiers and towers of smoked salmon over avocado mousse, hominy hummus with pomegranate seeds, and tuna tartare with mango and kiwi. Chef Fernanda Reyes was inspired by a ceramic work by Bernadette Esperanza Torres.
I was delighted to get a big hug from the ever-gracious Pam Liberda of Waldo Thai. Her massaman beef brisket curry with coconut, chili, and pistachio had everyone in my cadre headed back for seconds. Her culinary creation was stirred by ceramicist Peter Wilkin.
Whit Ross of Vivalore presented a sherried lobster bisque with wild mushroom crostini that was comforting on a chilly evening. And the display of gorgeous fresh mushrooms was a work of art in staging. It was also terrific to see Todd Schulte of the popular Earl’s Premier. He was serving up his fresh-shucked Maine oysters with mignonette sauces. And finally, I went head-over-heels for Linda Duerr’s, of The Restaurant at 1900, assorted crudo with an avocado yogurt sauce. It just so happens that the Building at 1900 served as the perfect backdrop for this entire event—which will absolutely find its way onto my calendar again next year.
Spotted: Crista Cavanaugh, Bunni Glasberg, Christy & Bill Gautreaux, Christina & Michael Corvino, Karen & Jack Holland, Susie & Tom Corbin, Sue & Lewis Nerman, Helen & Frank Wewers, Chris Beal & Timothy Van Zandt, Karen Jungmeyer, Frances Baszta, Cori & Matt Culp, Marcia & Lon Lane, Josue Montes, Jacques Bredius, Chadwick Brooks
Hot Gossip: What restaurant turned down a prominent media feature because they can’t handle any more business?