Teeing Up for Community Health

Chris Harris applies his neighborhood advocacy to advance COVID-19 vaccination rates

Chris Harris is well-known for his efforts to elevate and energize the Ivanhoe neighborhood on the eastside of Kansas City. More than twenty years ago, Harris bought an entire block on Wayne Avenue, where he grew up, and turned it into a five-hole golf course. Today, in addition to the golf course, there is a new park and new houses on the street. Recently, Harris began applying his energy to providing opportunities in the neighborhood for people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“When this neighborhood was becoming blighted, I felt as we – the people living here –  were becoming blighted,” Harris says. “When I started cleaning things up to make way for the golf course, you could feel it starting to change the way people thought about the neighborhood. You could see it. We were changing the mindset of people inside and outside the neighborhood.”

This experience of making change from the inside by doing something positive made Harris believe that anything is possible. Now he is leveraging the community he’s helped renew through the golf course to provide opportunities for people to become vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

“I want to help make the vaccine available for anyone who wants it,” he says. “I don’t want people to be able to say, ‘I don’t know where to go,’ or ‘All the locations are too far from the neighborhood.’ I want to help do everything we can to bring people here to get vaccinated or get more information.”

Harris says he understands that people have their own perceptions of the vaccine. He is not interested in pressuring people. As he’s done with developing the golf course, he is interested in showing people there may be another way to approach a challenging situation.

“Even if someone isn’t ready to get vaccinated, these events give us the opportunity to get in front of people and educate them. At the last event we talked to people and they asked us a lot of questions and told us what they’d heard and why they’re hesitant. They may not have gotten vaccinated that day, but they might come back. And they might get vaccinated the next time.”

Harris acknowledges that there is a lot of mistrust in the community around the vaccine. “It takes time to gain trust,” Harris says. “So, we’ll just keep knocking at the door. We’re going to continue to make things better for the area.”