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Jayden Fleming | Beyond:Wichita

People have studied the reasons young people leave a particular city, but maybe no place more than Wichita. Artist Paris Cunningham found herself wondering about the reasons behind people's urge to flee — or stay. In KMUW's new limited commentary, "Beyond Wichita," Paris offers a snapshot of the people behind the statistics.

Growing up I often heard if you get the chance to leave Wichita, don’t come back. Maybe that’s why when I returned to Wichita in 2018, I felt an instant urge to escape. And I wondered if anyone else felt this way and what experiences shaped their perception of the city.

I set out to learn more about what keeps us here, pushes us to leave, and what brings us back. The results were mixed. Some people felt that the pace of Wichita was perfect and had no desire to leave. But others thought the city had too few opportunities for career, entertainment — even romance — and couldn’t wait to get out. Some left and were happy to come back. Others, like Jayden Fleming, were more reluctant. Jayden was forced to come home after emergency surgery related to kidney disease.

"I wake up. I’m in a hospital room. Like I’m, I’m plugged up to this machine," Jayden remembers. "I see my blood coming out of the machine, pumping through it. And I just like immediately put the phone down and like took a deep breath, cause it was just, like, whoa.

"And I just remember the first thing I said to [my mom], while crying, was, 'I'm gonna have to move back home, huh?' She said, 'Yeah, probably for a little while.'"

So Jayden wasn’t the happiest person about returning to Wichita. But he’s created a successful nationwide career from here. He still plans to move sometime in the future, but for now, he’s happy.


Paris Cunningham is a visual artist and musician from Wichita. She is the Curator of Collections & Exhibitions at The Kansas African American Museum and creator and host of the podcast Beyond:Wichita.