When 5th District councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw found out about the life expectancy gap between residents living in certain Kansas City ZIP codes, she knew she had to do something about it.

Coming from a healthcare background, it concerned Parks-Shaw that someone living in the 64128 (a predominantly Black ZIP code) has an average life expectancy of 69 years, but someone living in the 64113 (a predominantly White ZIP code) has an average life expectancy of 84 years. Even worse, according to a the Kansas City Health Department, the average life expectancy gap is widening.

With more than 25 years in the healthcare industry, which included executive positions at Truman Medical Center and Planned Parenthood, Parks-Shaw felt she had the skillset to help address the issue. So, in 2018 she decided to run for city council.

“I honestly didn’t have a lot of (campaign) skills going into this, I was just really passionate about wanting to make a change,” Parks-Shaw said.

In the 2018 primary, competing against four other candidates, Parks-Shaw received nearly 60% of the votes. Connecting with the Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus, she learned that knocking on doors and meeting people face to face was an important way to gain supporters.

“The truth of the matter is, I knocked on five times the number of doors than (other candidates) did, because I had the training from this women’s organization to show me how,” said Parks-Shaw. “Nobody wins it alone.”

Parks-Shaw also said her experience owning a small business, her two Avon makeup stores, helped her with her campaign. “I love knocking on doors and delivering the Avon books, and that was excellent practice for canvassing because that’s what it takes — knocking on doors and talking to people about my platform,” Parks-Shaw said.

Before she ran, Parks-Shaw said she bought into the misconception that elected officials had to have a political background. Now, if someone is thinking about running, she’s committed to showing others that prior political experience and connections isn’t a requirement.

“I’m trying to educate and communicate to people that you don’t have to be an attorney and you don’t have to come from a lot of money, but you’re going to have to work to make it happen,” Parks-Shaw said. “I believe that our community will move forward and can move forward together when we make sure that everybody has a seat at the table.”

Now, with just over a year in office, Parks-Shaw has been busy making an impact, staying engaged with the community and supporting those struggling through the pandemic.

To address the life expectancy issue, Parks-Shaw has worked with other councilmembers on ways to reduce blight as a way to create safer neighborhoods. This year, Parks-Shaw secured city funding for community liaison employees who work to connect neighborhoods to resources, like Christmas in October, a nonprofit that helps qualifying homeowners with home renovations as a way to reduce blight. She has also voted in favor of more bulky item pickups that would also help to reduce blight in neighborhoods.

Together with Councilwoman Melissa Robinson, Parks-Shaw successfully presented and got passed Kansas City’s Crown Act, a statute that protects Black men and women from hair discrimination. It’s one of the achievement’s she particularly proud of.

“I think (the Crown Act) has the potential to really have the most impact for our African-American men and women in Kansas City,” Parks-Shaw said. Parks-Shaw has hosted giveaways throughout the year including a back-to-school giveaway where she positively impacted almost 2,000 local families and teachers, giving out school supplies, food, backpacks and sanitary products.

As a small business owner who also owns Krab Kingz Seafood in Kansas City, KS, with her husband, Parks-Shaw understands the struggles business owners faced this year. For that reason, she’s held community events in support of small businesses.

This month, she is hosting a small business tour in the 5th District. The tour will highlight businesses on the city’s website and social media to attract holiday customers. For a chance to be featured, learn more at Parks-Shaw’s Facebook.

She also collaborated with KC BizCare and AltCap in November for the Small Business Big Voice Listening Tour on issues small businesses are facing during the pandemic. The next step for councilmembers is to take action in city hall to address some of these concerns.

To stay up to date on KC’s 5th District and Parks-Shaw, visit https://www. facebook.com/RyanaParksShaw4KC/ or subscribe to her newsletter: https:// mailchi.mp/1bff29eeae55/year-inreview-my-first-year-of-service.

Jazzlyn "Jazzie” is the former senior reporter for our team, who joined the company in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, through the Report for America service program. For the past two years, she covered...

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