The Downtown Council honored five Urban Heroes last week, including residents of Northeast Kansas City Edgar Palacios and Rebecca Koop.
Each year, Kansas Citians nominate those who are passionate about improving downtown Kansas City. Then, a committee selects the year’s Urban Heroes to be recognized at an annual luncheon.
Urban Hero recipients can be people, businesses, or organizations committed to improving the quality of life either in the heart of downtown or in the surrounding neighborhoods. The focus is on recognizing the “unsung” heroes who make downtown better on a daily basis. The Downtown Council has recognized more than 100 individuals and groups with this award since 2005.
The 2023 Urban Heroes are President & CEO of Latinx Education Collaborative Edgar Palacios, Director of Development at Folly Theater Brian Williams, Owner of Back Door Pottery Rebecca Koop, Founder of Urban Hikes Kansas City Lisa Peña, and Founder and Executive Director of The Prospect KC Shanita McAfee-Bryant.
“The Downtown Council takes great pride each year in recognizing Urban Heroes, individuals who work tirelessly to make downtown Kansas City a more vibrant place to live, work, play, and build businesses,” said presenter Pat Contreras, Vice President of Business Development at McCownGordon Construction. “Since 2005, we have raised 107 community champions to the rank of Urban Hero.”
The Urban Hero award is designed to honor the spirit and drive around the diverse 22 neighborhoods and districts of greater downtown Kansas City, Contreras said.
“Today’s honorees are leaders, yet often unsung heroes, who make downtown, their businesses, their organizations, and their neighborhoods, better places to live, work and play each and every day,” Contreras said. “That’s the essence of what makes the diversity of our downtown.”
Edgar Palacios, resident of Independence Plaza and founder of Revolución Educativa and Latinx Education Collaborative (LEC),
“At the LEC, we’re focused on increasing representation of Latino educators in K-12,” Palacios said. “We’re passionate about the work because we believe that kids need to see themselves reflected in the teachers that serve them.”
In Kansas City, roughly 30% of students are Latino.
“We want to make sure that the teachers reflect the students that are in the classroom today,” Palacios said. “When students see themselves reflected in the teachers that serve them, they’re going to have better educational outcomes and experiences. We want to make sure that our students, our community, have the opportunities that they deserve to excel and thrive in our community and be part of the greater, burgeoning Kansas City experience.”
Rebecca Koop, owner of Back Door Pottery studio at 3922 St. John Ave. and resident of Indian Mound, has been here since 1986.
“I do like to see growth in the arts, in general, and in those people,” Koop said. “More and more artists are moving into the area, so that’s very exciting for me.”
Back Door Pottery hosts weekly pottery classes in the evenings and are open to beginners, as well as advanced recreational potters. Children’s workshops and individual group sessions are held on an appointment basis.
The majority of Koop’s work is functional kitchenware in Stoneware, Porcelain, and TerraCotta earthenware.
Koop has also been involved with Northeast Arts KC, a nonprofit organization with a mission to promote the arts, for over a decade.
“I’ve been involved with the Chalk Walk event, concerts,” Koop said. “There are so many walls or murals here in the Northeast area.”
Kansas City is an arts space and an arts place, Koop said. Northeast Arts KC hosts summer concerts at the St. John Garden at Koop’s studio and other events throughout the year, which can be found at northeastartskc.org.
Lisa Peña, who started urban hiking tours of downtown Kansas City and surrounding neighborhoods in 2019, quickly realized many of her hikers are local, but didn’t know the history of the area.
“We really like to highlight parts of history that are often unknown. We’ll talk about small details that, as Kansas Citians, we might just walk by every day,” Peña said. “Their perception of downtown changes. They feel a lot more familiar with the area and they often want to come back.
Urban Hikes Kansas City recently debuted a four-mile Hilly Historic Northeast Urban Hike that starts at PH Coffee, crosses through forested trails in Kessler Park, hits the hidden Cliff Drive, the Kansas City Museum, beautiful historic homes, an abandoned reservoir and the hillside slide at Concourse Park.
Chef Shanita McAfee-Bryant’s restaurant, The Prospect KC, is located in the south building of the 2000 Vine Street redevelopment. Founded in 2019, it is a ground-breaking social enterprise modeled as a high-impact solution to hunger, homelessness, and poverty.
“We focus on workforce development, nutritional literacy and being a place for people to access healthy, nutritional food,” McAfee-Bryant said. “Peoples’ ability to nourish themselves affects everything, from their physical health, their mental health, their emotional health, their behavior, and crime. All of this, in some way, intersects with our people eating, and eating well.”
The Downtown Council also celebrated 20 years of the Downtown Community Improvement District, discussed upcoming developments like a new Royals stadium, the South Loop project and multi-family mixed-income housing.