Teaming up with America’s car clubs is driving a local community change effort to a nationwide scale, said Chris Harris.
“I don’t want to stop here,” said Harris, owner and operator of the Harris Park Midtown Sports and Activities Center — officially shifting gears to a “Phase 2” after seeing the positive change caused by work to erase blighted land from the Ivanhoe neighborhood on 40th and Wayne.
“We’re going to do anything we can do show people outside of our community and inside our communities, that we’re here to educate and we want this to go nationwide,” he continued.
Click here to read more about Harris’ vision for his Kansas City community and his work in the Ivanhoe neighborhood.
Starting with Kansas City’s Vette Ryders all the way to the Real Deal Vettes of Memphis, the car clubs are expected to coordinate shows across the country — each driving home a specific message or call for social change in their respective communities, he added.
“Kids don’t see a lot of people with fancy cars that work 8 [o’clock] to 5 [o’clock]. That’s what sparked it for me,” Harris said. “We can use cars the same way we’re using sports. You’d be amazed at how many kids have walked up to me and asked, ‘Do you work?’”
Vehicles as conversation starters can be a powerful medium for change, said Joe Williams, president of the KC Vette Ryders, noting the group has worked in Kansas City on different events for the area’s benefit before, but never on a national scale.
“I have never met anyone that doesn’t like cars. We get demographics of people [at our shows] that may or may not normally speak with each other — but they get around our vehicle, talking and asking questions.” said Williams. “I saw all the stuff that Chris has done and has been doing for over 25 years now — I wanted to see how we could help get his message out because it ran pretty parallel to our message.”
“If we all use the same platform in our respective communities, we can really make a big impact and change things,” Harris added. “I mean, you look at 40th and Wayne where we had all that blighted land — we don’t have that anymore. There are so many things that have changed.”
Alongside educating youth to the values of a good work ethic and impact of clean land on a neighborhood, the group is determined to tackle big societal conversations — starting with gun safety, he said.
“People need to use guns responsibly and we really want to reach out because we’d had so many accidental shootings and homicides and gun violence [in Kansas City],” said Williams. “We’re going to do anything we can do reach kids.”
Gun violence hits close to home for the Memphis Real Deals as well, said Devin Cooper, president of the Tennessee-based car club.
“Just here in the last three months we’ve had several instances where kids have been shot by accident so gun safety is big to us,” said Cooper. “Secondary to that, we’ve thought about [cleaning up] blighted areas and also doing something in the healthcare industry to see if we can accomodate blood pressure screenings and all of those types of things.”
“I love what they are doing in Kansas City and the whole Harris Park initiative,” Cooper added. “We’re really looking forward tapping into that and getting this information out there.”
Plans for partnering with the Kansas City police and fire departments as well as other community organizations in the area are in the works for future events, Harris said, with similar efforts expected to be replicated in other cities.
“If we say we’re going to do [a gun safety event] on July 30th, Memphis will do it on July 30th and St. Louis will do it on July 30th — it will all coincide and we’re going to push the same message,” added Harris. “We’re going to use our vehicles to educate the community.”
The KC Vette Ryders are planning an Aug. 9 car show in Westport with a presentation on community clean-up efforts planned to kickstart the movement, said Harris.
“When was the last time you saw a car show in Westport? We’re really pushing to use these vehicles to open doors to positive things,” he said.
The group is expected to add cities in the coming months, he added, noting Milwaukee, Chicago, and St. Louis are among those in consideration.
“We’ve been really excited to take our message on the road and that other groups have been receptive to talk,” Williams said. “We just look forward to reach even more organizations locally that can make a difference in Kansas City.”
Click here to learn more about the August auto show in Westport.