Conflict is inevitable, violence is not. Many of us know that an effective way to curb violence is through skilled, professional mediation. Mediation has a long history in Kansas City, Missouri (KCMO). About 30 years ago, at the prompting of Kansas City resident Alvin Brooks, and with the support of city leaders, a mediation service was embedded into the KCMO Human Relations Department. For many years, Rhonda Harris and other staff and volunteers served the city through their mediation services. When the program was cut from the city budget two and a half years ago, the Community Mediation Center (CMC) began receiving those calls from KCMO residents. Due to referrals from 311, the Housing Authority, City Hall, the Mayor’s office and other city offices, intake calls to CMC increased 60%.
A large percentage of cases that are referred to CMC prevent homelessness by working with landlords and tenants to keep people in their homes. CMC is called to assist neighbors due to problems as complex as language and cultural differences and as straightforward as a barking dog or a leak in the ceiling. Another common issue involves visitation and custody of children whose parents no longer live together. All of these situations have the potential to become violent, yet almost all are solved through mediation with a plan to move forward in realistic and peaceful ways. Although helping to solve these issues is time and labor intensive for CMC staff, most of the clients referred from KCMO are not able to pay the minimum $35 on a sliding fee scale. Funds to sustain the services to families and neighborhoods have not been found. Creative funding is absolutely necessary if mediation services are to remain available to those who need it most.
Last week, CMC Board member Rik Siro and I met with Kansas City’s new mayor Sly James, and the ‘Community Mediation Champions’ Initiative was born. Because he has been an attorney mediator for many years, Mayor James knows the value of community mediation in solving conflict, and a plan is emerging to encourage partnerships for financial support with private community leaders. Mayor James gave us his full attention, asked pertinent questions and offered valuable suggestions and support. His dedication to reducing violence in Kansas City with the use of community mediation is apparent. Finding ways to solve our conflicts in just and peaceful ways is a priority. Welcome to the Peace Party!
You are invited! Watch for an upcoming announcement about the ‘Community Mediation Champions’ Initiative. Join CMC and Mayor James in working to insure that conflict resolution services are available to every KCMO citizen.