KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Four months ago, after the death of George Floyd, protests on the Country Club Plaza turned violent. Officers were injured. Protesters were tear-gassed and arrested. And businesses sustained significant damage. But after a few months, one business in the Plaza area is trying to turn the unrest into something beautiful.
On May 30th Jeff and Chryssy Huff watched in horror as protests on the plaza turned ugly. The nighttime video broadcast on the news seemed to show rioters moving in front of their business on the corner of Wyandotte and Nichols roads.
Early the next morning, the owners of Re:, located along Nichols Road, rushed nervously to survey the damage to the business they had worked so hard to build. Their store front was marred with graffiti.
“And then the rocks. We had rocks everywhere,” Chryssy Huff said.
One rock had been hurled from the angry hands of a protester though a window etched with the word “Restore”. A moment that simultaneously shattered and yet symbolized everything the small business stands for. “I remember it vividly. Oh, my body and my heart just reacted. I cried,” Huff said.
But then Huff made an intentional and deeply emotional pivot.
“It’s taken me a lot of months and a lot of hard work to really understand that my rights as a person with a broken window is nothing in comparison to the persecution and the hurt that black people have from 400 years of being persecuted.”
Re: was once a huge theater, and the first building JC Nichols developed on the plaza, with a large footprint along the historic street. But Nichols is widely known for his deep-seeded racial discrimination. Blacks and Jews were banned in the neighborhoods he developed.
But the rock, released in frustration through their front window birthed a painful change for the owners inside these walls. And slowly, the idea of racial restoration took root.
“You can’t change unless you’re willing to do the work. And part of the work means we have to identify the ugly. Sometimes we have to look at the things that aren’t attractive or pretty or beautiful,” Huff said.
Then came the idea for the Restoration Art Walk. On Saturday, September 26, 10 black artists have their paintings displayed behind the once broken windows at Re:.
“This is a beautiful representation of what needs to happen. The city needs to be restored. The perspective and ideas of one another you know,” Warren Harvey, an artist, said.
Harvey is one of the artists that painted Black Lives Matter murals along the streets of Kansas City. Harvey and Huff connected through the Troost Market Collective. Much of his art was created during the racial turmoil of this summer, as black lives were being both celebrated and scrutinized.
His work is full of emotion and shines from windows inside a business once built by JC Nichols.
“It’s a step towards changing the energy of the plaza and of our community. It’s important that we take big steps or small steps just steps forward to change,” Harvey said.
And Huff agrees, “Historically, art tells a story. We have an opportunity to tell a new story and I want to be part of the new story.”
Art hanging as at Re: as part of the Restoration Art Walk will be displayed through Sunday. It is all for sale.