Celebrating differences strengthens everyone, a white 1 Million Cups volunteer told a room full of black entrepreneurs and business owners Wednesday evening.
“Diversity and inclusion are important to us year-round here at 1 Million Cups,” said Kyle Smith, communications coordinator at KCSourceLink and a 1MC Kansas City community organizer. “And I am very well aware that that sounds like a lot of B.S., so let me be real with you: Part of why we decided to celebrate Black History Month here at 1 Million Cups was to let all of you know that we are not colorblind.
“We see you. Any time a white person or an organization tells you that they are colorblind, I don’t care how good their justification sounds,” Smith added. “Part of it is fear. It’s fear that if they look at the color of their skin and then look at the color of your skin, they may have to admit that the world treats us differently, and that hurts, but we’re not afraid because we know that by celebrating our differences, it strengthens all of us.”
Wednesday night’s special 1 Million Cups showcase at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation concluded a month-long Black History Month series on black-owned businesses in Kansas City.
The auditorium was filled with enthusiastic business owners and entrepreneurs who were eager to share details about their products and services. From boutiques to real estate, catering, wedding, photography and beverage services, to interior design and financial planning, a versatile array of businesses were represented at the showcase.
The youngest entrepreneur in the room, 8-year-old Raelynn Heath, owns and operates Rae’s Materials, a bead jewelry business.
After networking and food sampling, the crowd heard from Miko Richardson, owner of Shots by Miko, a full-service beverage company, offering custom-made alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
Richardson and her team of mixologists hustle every day at their work, she said. The next step for her business is building market credibility and learning more about whether and how to scale the company, she added.
“I have no angel investors,” Richardson said. “Shots by Miko is financed by yours truly.”
A panel discussion followed with Jordan Williams, owner of Keefe Cravat, and Wesley Hamilton, owner of Disabled But Not Really, as well as moderator Adrienne Haynes, founder and business attorney of SEED Law and local advocate for entrepreneurs.
“First you build the dream, then the dream builds you,” Haynes said during the panel.
Challenges for entrepreneurs, no matter their skin color, come in all shapes and sizes. For example, every business needs a product or service to sell and a target audience to market that product or service. But Williams hadn’t understood his market until recently, he said.
“It wasn’t until last summer that I narrowed down who my target market is,” he added, noting his new partnership with the Gown Gallery that begins in March.
For Hamilton, who became paralyzed a few years before he founded his nonprofit, Disabled But Not Really, a daily challenge is simply getting out of bed and ready for the day.
“What I have to embrace is being paralyzed,” Hamilton said. “I’m literally telling myself, ‘How bad do you want it to be able to impact someone else?’ If you can get yourself out of bed, you’re already ready to go.”
The evening showcase ended with a strong sense of community and connection. Many stayed after the panel discussion to mingle and exchange contact information.
“Nobody wants to end Black History Month by listening to a white guy talk, so please hang out and enjoy the small business fair,” Smith said, thanking every business owner and entrepreneur for participating in the showcase.
Check out these photos, courtesy of Nicole Bissey, from the 1 Million Cups Kansas City Black History Month Entrepreneurial Showcase!