It’s time for members of Kansas City’s largely unseen and forgotten communities of color to take control, said Wesley Hamilton, one of the organizers behind The Distrikc.
“We speak so much about KC, but people forget whole groups of people — I’m talking Troost to Main, East Kansas City, South Kansas City,” he said. “We want to empower our community without using people from the outside. We’re saying, ‘This is our community. It’s up to us to be the leaders who will change things.’”
The first in a series of events from The Distrikc debuts Saturday at Dobbs Elementary School. Local entrepreneurs have joined with State Farm to present a community gathering to educate youth on the fundamentals of car maintenance.
Click here for more details on the free event.
The group is intentionally starting with the basics, said organizer Darion Moore, a bodybuilder, interpreter, and familiar face at Do WORK Factory in Independence.
“We’re trying to get the youth started young with a lot of the skills their parents haven’t been teaching them,” Moore said. “A lot of kids of color don’t even have a father in the household, so we want to show them there’s another way to learn about and experience life besides what they’re seeing on television and social media.”
“This isn’t a one-time event,” added AbdulRasheed Yahaya, founder of Local Legends Gaming and another key organizer. “It’s important for us to continue to encourage this focus. The trials and tribulations these kids are going through will follow them from adolescence to adulthood.”
The marathon continues
The Distrikc emerged in the wake of rapper-turned-entrepreneur Nipsey Hussle’s March 31 shooting death outside his Marathon Clothing store in Los Angeles. A group of Kansas City entrepreneurs — including Hamilton, Moore and Mark Launiu, co-founder of MADE MOBB/MADE Urban Apparel and founder of the Kritiq — journeyed west for the community leader’s funeral in April, their drive to produce change at home ignited, they said.
Click here to learn more about Nipsey Hussle’s impact on the group of entrepreneurs.
When they returned from LA, Launiu called a meeting of friends with influence, he said. As their conversations grew, The Distrikc’s organizing team expanded to seven leaders inspired to pool their collective clout to help boost Kansas City.
The pitch began with what Launiu called his “Church’s Chicken analogy.”
“I said, ‘We all have $1. If we go to Church’s we can each get a biscuit and that’s about it. Imagine each of us throwing our $1 together. Now we can buy a whole combo and we all can get a piece of something,’” he said. “It’s similar to our resources, if we all put our resources together we can make a huge difference.”
Breathing the same air
It’s never too early to learn a hustle — and never too late for entrepreneurs to empower change in the communities that birthed them, said Ryan S. Harvey.
“Nipsey is the one who started this. His death inspired us to be more accountable to our community. Before someone else comes in to ‘save us,’ what can we do — as people who look like the actual members of the community — to step up?” asked Harvey, a motivational speaker and life skills coach.
The key is who’s offering the helping hand, emphasized Harvey and his co-founders.
“If these kids ask us for advice, we’re going to need to know what they’ve been through,” he said. “Who better to give that advice than people who have breathed that same air? Felt that same lack of opportunity? Let me show you — Let me show you what sacrifice, determination and motivation looks like for real.”
Hamilton, the founder of Disabled But Not Really and a well-known personality in startup circles, nodded in agreement.
“As an entrepreneur in Kansas City who really reaches many different demographics — networking meetings and community events — I see a that there are a lot of people who don’t look like us trying to impact our community,” Hamilton said. “There’s nothing wrong with them wanting to help, but our youth aren’t reacting to their messages. They’re asking, ‘Why are you over here trying to teach me things when you can’t possibly understand the grassroots?’”
People like Moore can truly identify with the struggle, the bodybuilder and activist said, offering the promise of redemption through personal development.
“Growing up, we didn’t have role models. We were bad every day,” Moore said. “I’m a two-time felon, so I can tell these kids that no matter what your background is, better days are ahead. It doesn’t have to slow you down.”
“Anything is possible, if you put your grind to it — if you put your mind to it,” added fellow Distrikc organizer Deaunte Thomas, the Artist Formally Known As Duddy, a muralist and painter. “If an opportunity can’t be presented to you, then you have to present it to the world.”
Access to acceptance
Members of the black community still aren’t accepted in many spaces within Kansas City, Hamilton said.
Parking his car in the Crossroads Arts District this week for a meeting of The Distrikc organizers, the adaptive athlete and nonprofit founder was met with disapproving looks, angry gestures and hands planted firmly on the hips of two white women inside a neighboring business who protested his using a parking stall reserved for drivers with disabilities.
Hamilton, who was shot in 2015 and uses a wheelchair for mobility, felt compelled to move his vehicle across the lot to a no-parking zone to avoid a more hostile encounter with the women, he said, despite his vehicle having clearly posted disabled placards. (Startland was present during the incident, which preceded an interview for this story.)
Such situations are common for entrepreneurs of color and other members of the local black community, many of whom are just trying to go about their lives, Hamilton said.
“We see a beautiful skyline that doesn’t welcome us,” he said. “We go into different clubs and businesses, and all the restrictions are based around our image, our culture. It’s a crippling feeling.”
The Distrikc aims to change that narrative, he emphasized.
“We’re tired of not being accepted. So we want to tell our youth, you can build that place of acceptance yourself. Right here,” Hamilton said. “This is about empowerment. It’s about investing in our community to provide the knowledge of entrepreneurship.”
A lack of acceptance can lead to anger and even hate, he said.
“When you’re treated a certain way, it crushes you,” Hamilton said. “And the person without a growth mindset is going to turn that into something negative. You can instead turn these situations into love, into success.”
“I took control of my life after being shot and I’ve been successful ever since,” he added. “This is about teaching our community to take charge, to not someone else control the outcome.”
Accomplishing that on a city-wide scale requires entrepreneurs to come together through efforts like The Disitrikc, said Yahaya.
“These kids need to know there are brothers out there who will have their backs,” he said.