Editor’s note: KCultivators is a lighthearted profile series to highlight people who are meaningfully enriching Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Experience the world, engage with community, and execute ideas to get ahead — not only in life, but in building a legacy that stands the test of time, said Nia Richardson.
A product of Kansas City Public Schools — and a graduate of Lincoln High School — Richardson was never totally sold on a specific future profession, she said.
“I want to do photography, I want to do this, I’m going to do that,” she remembered thinking as she came of age in an evolving Kansas City. “It wasn’t until my senior year that I went through a Kauffman program and they kind of pushed me into entrepreneurship.”
With the unwavering support of a family rooted in self-determination, Richardson forged a path in business at Tennessee State in Nashville, before studying at the University of the Virgin Islands St. Thomas, she said.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to focus on, [so I studied] general business and learned the habit of learning a little bit about a lot of things and then figuring out how to connect them … After college, I came home — I’m a single mom of three [now], but when I came home, I was a single mom of one — and I started working for my dad.”
Working in the family business — DuBois Consultants, a civil and structural engineering firm — prepared Richardson for a number of business and civic leadership roles, she acknowledged.
Now working for the City of Kansas City, Missouri, as the assistant to the director of small business and entrepreneurship at the KC Bizcare office, Richardson is eager to use her experience in marketing and business development to elevate Kansas City startups and small businesses, she said of the role she assumed in November 2018.
Click here to learn more about KC Bizcare.
“[If it wasn’t for Rick Usher] I wouldn’t have this opportunity … I’m most proud of the fact that I’m able to sit here today. Whatever it is I was doing caught someone’s attention and they said ‘I think you should try this — I think you’d be good at this,’” she said reflecting on her career journey: One that’s largely been influenced by family values, she added.
Sitting at a small table in a back corner of Mildred’s coffee shop, Richardson recalled the way her parents challenged her to look beyond her race and origin — not as a form of neglecting her heritage as a black woman, but embracing it as equal.
“I used to always get challenged [over my race, called redbone] as a child because I have a dark-skinned father and a light-skinned mother,” she explained. “I would always go home and say to my mother, ‘What am I mixed with?’ Because people always asked me that. Her response would always be ‘you tell them to read a goddamn book!’”
Such an upbringing not only encouraged Richardson to embrace her family history, it pushed her to experience new cultures, chase opportunities perceived as out of reach, and live for the greater good she said.
Startland News sat down with Richardson to learn more about her adventures, experience, and passion for further building the city that built her.
Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri
A historical figure you wish you could follow on social media and why? I’m not really on social media — but, if I did have to follow someone, it would probably be Charles Hazley [a] former councilman for the city of Kansas City. He was very instrumental in [the development of] 18th and Vine. He was pretty much the architect of that plan, but needed [Emmanuel] Cleaver to really push that plan … I’m wishing I had more time to spend with [Hazley] to learn more about what happened before my time. What happened during the era of Freedom Incorporated, when they were at their strongest? What happened during the politics of that time? How did 18th and Vine come about? Before [Hazley] died, he was very active in Urban Summit and that’s where I got to get a look at and get more acquainted with him … one things that I loved about him was that he was such an advocate for young professionals and such an advocate for helping us — the next generation and next generation of leadership — really get up to par.
Weirdest thing you’ve eaten: I think conch was the weirdest thing. I didn’t know what conch was when I was living in the Virgin Islands, and so to actually eat it in different ways that they prepared it … I wasn’t ready for it.
Best thing you’ve eaten in Kansas City: One of my favorite places is Mesob — their fried plantains and spicy Coleslaw. I am absolutely addicted to them! When they closed and we were waiting on a new location, I stalked them until they opened.
If you could go to any concert what would it be: I would’ve loved to get out to a Bob Marley concert. Living in the Virgin Islands, I understand now the island time of concerts. I’ve gone to concerts — like a Beenie Man concert or something — and it really didn’t start until like 2 a.m., so at 10 p.m. while we’re there thinking “we’re on time” — no! We had to wait another five hours before we got started and literally when it was over and as we were walking back to the campus, literally chickens and roosters were going off down the street.
Why do you call Kansas City home: It’s where I was born and made. Born, made, and raised on Prospect. I’m still staying on the same block I grew up on — purchased a home there across the street from my parents, less than a minute away from my office with my father. It’s my foundation. It’s my village! And no matter where I’ve gone in the world, for some reason I come back.
What you would do if you weren’t in your line of work: A zoologist! I grew up very fascinated with animals. I’ve had probably every pet in the world — thank God for my parents. I remember being a young girl, actually in the dentist’s office, and I was reading a magazine and there was — I had never seen — a black zoologist and it was a woman that had just got written up and she was a black zoologist. I want to stay in Detroit? And I remember writing her and going back and forth with her and her getting me very interested in it. So, for a long time, that’s, what I wanted to be.
What word or phrase do you hate the most? I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a hate thing. I’m just not a fan of the phrase “diversity.” I feel like it’s a cover or a fluff word … it’s something that says I’m “less than” or I’m only put in a pool and I’m diluted in this pool because I’m not the focus — when I should be. The focus is I’m the one at the bare bottom of this barrel and I need the most help and I can’t get it because you keep stacking everybody on top of it. That’s what diversity says to me. “Diversity and inclusion” or things like that — I get why people use the words and I’m not trying to be a challenge to it — it’s just kind of irritated me because I see too many people hide behind that and make people think they have an intent that’s good, that’s for the people and it’s not.
Biggest accomplishment: I’m proud of everything. Every little thing I’ve touched has had some impact. It’s not about me, it’s about what I’m touching and I’m hoping that me being in this role [with KC Bizcare] I can have more impact to make some kinds of change … I’m hoping that I’m in the right position at the right time.
Biggest failure: I felt very defeated on the airport commission. When I’m sitting there saying, “Hey, we need to do more for small businesses” … I felt like my voice wasn’t being heard. I just felt like I was beating my head up against the wall and no one was listening to me — but, that’s happened several times. I didn’t realize that people may have been listening to me and maybe I need to find a different approach to how I say what I’m saying.
Who in your life inspires you: My parents had a big impact on my life. They’ve exposed me to a lot. They’re the reason I am who I am today.
You have a time machine and can travel anywhere in the past or future. Where and when do you go? I would love to witness the triumph of Queen Nzinga … she was the first military queen and she definitely did a lot to lead her country. I would love to be in an era before slavery, before all these things that happened. See and bear witness to what things went on. I would love to see ancient Egypt or Medic, or Kemet before it was colonized or how it is now. I would love to see the history.
Your mantra or motto: “Heavy is the head that wears the crown” was something that really hit me hard and it was kind of introduced to me from the point of leadership. You know, you have that heavy weight when you’re leading and people are depending upon you. You get held accountable. Always realize you are what impact you have!
Guilty pleasure TV show: “Game of Thrones!” “Marco Polo.” I love historical stuff … I’ve always been a fan of fantasy. I went to a Latin grammar school, I got taught about Greek mythology so anything along that line I’m game for!