Robert Williams came home for his mother’s birthday in 2009 and was shocked by the conditions of the neighborhood.
“I get out here, and I see how dirty her street was,” recalls Williams. “Her whole street, just litter and trash everywhere.”
He grabbed a shovel, broom, and trash bags and started tidying up the block when a police car came by and, after a brief exchange, offered to help. Soon, another officer joined them.
When they finished, the officers suggested Williams get a group together to do that sort of work. At first, he balked at the idea, but he got to thinking he did know some folks around KC and could help make a difference.
“Robert called me and said, man, as the OGs, it’s time for us to change our community and change our streets. We’ve got to change this,” says KCOG CEO Lamar Vickers.
After that, the KCOGs were born.
Short for “Keeping Communities On Guard,” KCOG is a community outreach organization that has grown into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that does street cleanup across the city and a lot more. As an organization, they also conduct voter registration drives, lobby politicians, give out hot meals, connect people to resources, and offer job training and youth activities.
“We do a little bit of everything,” says KCOG founder Williams.
There are currently 20 active members, but close to 300 people have worked with them since their founding.
After years of volunteering with neighborhood clean ups, the group is now contracted with the city for street cleanup and has crews around town nearly every day, picking up and bettering the community.
As a nod to their clean up efforts, you’ll find two adopt-a-street signs for the KCOGs on 71 Hwy at 22nd and 27th streets, one on the northbound side and another southbound drivers can see.
During the pandemic, they helped get people rental and utility assistance by meeting people at churches, grocery stores, and libraries. They also helped with food giveaways at churches like Mt. Sinai and Morningstar Baptist.
While the KC OGs aren’t a political group and don’t endorse candidates, they were instrumental in getting what they felt was a more favorable redistricting map for Kansas City’s 5th District.
With the population in the district not growing as rapidly as in other districts, the city was being forced to expand the district’s boundary lines to keep its population comparable with other districts. Instead of expanding south of 470, the KCOGs pushed for and won an alternative that moved the district’s boundaries west a few blocks.
To combat gun violence, the KCOGs are also currently lobbying the state of Missouri to make the purchase of bullets by felons illegal. The group says they want legislation that states you can’t buy bullets unless you have a licensed gun.
Vickers points out that felons who shouldn’t have had guns or bullets committed several recent gun deaths in KC. They also want bullets to be marked so that if you purchase bullets for a felon, you’ll be charged.
“If we pass this, people won’t share bullets like they share their Netflix account,” says KCOG Vice President Karen Williams.
The group also partners with job training and entrepreneurial programs like Connections to Success, JE Dunn, Strategic Workforce Development, and Goodwill, among others.
“You can’t ask somebody to stop selling dope if you don’t give them something else to sell; you gotta give them an opportunity,” says Vickers.
Recruitment Drive & Picnic
The KCOGs see plenty of work to be done around the city and are looking for new members to get involved with the organization. They are looking for people around Kansas City who would like to help better their communities. They’d also like to reclaim some of the individuals who’ve worked with the group before.
“We have so much we can do if we just had more manpower,” says Karen Williams.
The group is having a recruitment event and community picnic Sat., July 29, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Blue Hills Park, 53rd and Brooklyn, in KCMO. There’ll be free food, plus information for those who want more info about the KCOGs.
“We’re gonna have some smoked brisket, chicken, hot dogs, good sides, and all the fixings at the recruitment drive,” says KCOG President William Woodruff. “We’re looking for like-minded people with the heart to give back and help in the community.”