KANSAS CITY, Mo. — MaRita Johnson remembers when all she wanted was a chance.
After growing up in a home on East 12th Street, where her mother and father often weren’t present, Johnson admits that she “made mistakes” symptomatic of a crime-riddled neighborhood.
“I used to steal to feed myself,” Johnson said. “I raised myself.”
That path landed Johnson in jail, but it also led her to seek change in her life.
“I just gave a promise to God, 'If you give me this one chance, I’ll assure you I won’t do this again,'” Johnson said.
Years later, that chance Johnson begged for is manifested on the basketball courts near the 18th & Vine Jazz District.
Johnson, 30, created “No Lost Souls,” an organization for at-risk children and teenagers. Some of the teens played a pickup basketball game Wednesday at a local park.
“There are some that are going through fatherless households or a mother or father’s death or imprisonment,” she said. “I just wanted them to know mama might not be there but MJ is there.”
Since starting the group, Johnson has organized events and field trips for more than two dozen boys and girls from troubled neighborhoods. She has also set up classes for them to learn about jobs and life skills, including a workshop on cars and car repair.
“It’s a place where they’ll be able to come get enrichment as well as education,” Johnson said. “I want you to go to college. I want you to go to the Air Force. I want you to do a training program.”
Johnson eventually hopes to open a permanent location for No Lost Souls to help even more teens and children.
“I want to keep them active," she said. "I want to keep their mind on something. I don’t want them to be bored and get in mischief.”
Johnson isn't alone in trying to make Kansas City better. Members of War Cry Kansas City waived anti-violence signs Wednesday at the intersection of Prospect Avenue and Independence Avenue.
“I’m a trauma nurse, so I see the trauma (and) I see the crime,” Adrian Perricone, who held a sign, said. “I see the young adults and the young men and women shot and stabbed.”
War Cry Kansas City hopes their daily presence can make a difference.
“We want people to know we’re serious and we’re here for them,” Fannie Hill said. “I hope we can get the people to come together. We can’t do anything until we come together.”
With multiple groups calling for an end to violence, Johnson hopes the movement will continue to grow.
“I want to be that person that’s going to stand beside (the children and teens) and say, ‘I see your potential. We are going all the way,’” she said.
Johnson has started a GoFundMe to help pay for a permanent space for No Lost Souls.
War Cry Kansas City is trying to attract more volunteers and has a Facebook page with more information about the group and its mission.