KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Ten months after the Kansas City Council voted to rename The Paseo after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., voters will have the final say on Tuesday.
Talks of renaming a Kansas City street in honor of King date back to the 1970s. It finally happened in January when city council members voted 8-4 to rename The Paseo after the civil rights leader.
Kelli Jones has lived on the boulevard for 10 years.
“We want to honor Dr. King. He deserves a great honor,” she said. “We’re late on this. We understand that. We want him to have a great honor. We want it to be done in a way that will unite our city, and this has not done that.”
Jones belongs to a grassroots movement called Save The Paseo. The group collected nearly 3,000 signatures to put the renaming of The Paseo to a citywide vote, which will take place on Tuesday.
“A lot of the people who live here have a lot of pride about living here, and it’s our Paseo,” she said. “This is so important. We need this reset. We need to get it right.”
Supporters of keeping The Paseo name point to the boulevard’s history. It’s one of KC’s oldest boulevards, stretching nearly 10 miles. They also believe citizens were left out of the decision-making process.
“There was not a lot of engagement, and there certainly was not a concerted effort to speak to people,” she said.
“This is a conversation that has been going on for nearly three decades in this community,” said Jermaine Reed, a former councilman who voted in favor of the name change.
In 2011, Reed spearheaded an effort to rename Prospect Avenue for King. That movement failed to gain enough traction. He voted to rename The Paseo because he said it meant King would be honored in a substantial way.
“We wanted to make sure that there was a boulevard that would be maintained through parks funding to ensure that it is not just a street that is rundown, but it’s one that is protected, preserved and enhanced,” Reed said.
In early 2018, former mayor Sly James formed the MLK Advisory Board to look into how to best honor King. They suggested renaming The Paseo, 63rd Street or the new terminal at KCI.
“As a person who has been at the table of leadership in this city, I think it’s so important for us to maintain it and find other unique ways to ensure we’re doing everything we possibly can to move forward after the name change,” Reed said.
“I think Dr. King wanted all voices to be heard,” Jones added. “What we’re doing is a great testament to Dr. King, to speak up and be part of the process.”
Reed and Jones agreed that leaving the decision in the hands of voters is best.
“The people will have spoken, and we respect that,” Jones said.
Voters who want the city to change Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard back to The Paseo should vote “Yes” on Question 5. Voters who want to keep King’s name should vote “No.”
The special election is Tuesday, Nov. 5. Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.