For more than 20 years, Chris Harris has devoted his time to transforming urban land into green spaces and recreation areas.
He developed the Harris Park Midtown Sports and Activities Center in the late 1990s, which turned a vacant lot in urban Kansas City, Missouri, into a beautiful park with a playground and basketball court. Since then, Harris has built the park into not only a recreational facility, but also an educational environment that helps youth and adults cultivate basic life skills, self-esteem, and respect for others and property.
He is also working on building a state-of-the-art, nine-hole putting green as a way to bring golf to the urban area. At UMKC, he was awarded the Bernard Osher Reentry Scholarship, which gave him the opportunity to advance his philanthropic initiatives and his career. Harris currently serves as a housing locator at Truman Medical Center.
His career achievements led him to be named the 2018 Alumni Achievement Award winner for the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Harris recently discussed his career and motivations with UMKC:
You grew up in Kansas City’s Ivanhoe neighborhood. How would you describe the area’s main challenges during that time?
I learned at a very early age that growing up in the Ivanhoe neighborhood was going to be a challenge. I spent a great deal of time walking and playing in the area with friends – often in the streets because there were no sidewalks. I often saw abandoned, blighted houses and unkempt land. Once the sun set, the neighborhood became a very scary place.
How did you keep yourself moving forward in the face of those challenges?
I became competitive and focused on any and all sports. I love pushing myself and striving to be better, so the competition kept me moving forward, focused and out of trouble. Ask my friends, I am even competitive at a simple board game.
How would you describe the area now?
The area continues to improve annually. Residents can now walk through their neighborhood. Abandoned housing continues to be either torn down or renovated, so beautification is moving forward.
What drives your passion to see Ivanhoe neighborhood thrive?
I love the neighborhood. There are a lot of good friends and families there. Many of my childhood friends who became successful, left and moved to the suburbs. I feel strongly that we can’t abandon the neighborhood. Someone must stay and continue to drive for beautification and successful resources for our youth.
You raised $2.5 million to develop the park, how did you get people on board with your vision?
It was literally word of mouth marketing and a strong passion and determination. I never gave up. I started by getting out there and cutting down trees with a $60 saw that I purchased at Home Depot. I walked the walk and talked the talk, and I think people saw that in me and that’s why they were willing to get on board.
Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association recognizes individual alumni and one family with top honors. UMKC will honor Harris and other outstanding alumni at the 2018 Alumni Awards event Friday, June 15, on campus. The reception is one of the university’s largest events and proceeds support student scholarships. In the last decade, the Alumni Awards event has garnered more than $1 million in scholarships and immediate aid for students.
This story was first published on May 16, 2018, on UMKC Today.