Learning and celebrating Black history should be in the cards for more than just the month of February, Kearra Johnson said, unveiling a new design project that’s set to hit metro store shelves soon.
“I really just want to create fun ways to get serious conversations started for the younger generation,” explained Johnson, founder of Kansas City-based Studio Lo and designer of the newly released Revolution Card Deck — a standard deck of playing cards, celebrating such Black icons as Michelle Obama, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks.
“All of the figures that are represented in this deck have played a role in American history as a whole [and] changed the way we as Blacks are allowed to operate in society,” Johnson continued, detailing her inspiration for the playing cards, which quickly caught the attention of curators at Made in KC.
“It was a pretty cool connection to make because there’s opportunity for future collaborations,” she said of her experience landing a spot among the local retailer’s Kansas City-made and designed goods and what it means for the future of her growing brand as a digital artist.
“I’m excited for the product to be able to reach that many people — and it’s an expansion of my audience. People who I probably wouldn’t have contact with are going to have my object in their possession.”
Originally designed as a class project during Johnson’s time at The University of Missouri, she nearly folded work on the cards upon graduating in 2020, she recalled.
“At first I was hesitant to do it, because I had never seen it done before, but then I was like, ‘You know, this could be cool.’”
Johnson’s classmates and professors agreed.
“A professor at the University of Missouri found my portfolio website and she sent me an email,” Johnson recalled, noting the professor wanted to give the cards to students in her graduate classes, but a critical problem remained: they didn’t yet physically exist.
Instead of turning down the opportunity, Johnson showed her hand and used the request as a starting point for bringing her work to market.
And with 500 decks now headed for Made in KC store and online shelves — potentially arriving as soon as this week — there’s no looking back, she added.
“To see your passion and people respond to it so well is rewarding,” Johnson said. “I always knew that it was a really cool idea, so it was exciting for me to get it into the hands of people.”
More than an entrepreneurial opportunity or a conversation starter, the card deck represents her commitment to using her artistic abilities to give back to her community.
“I’ve learned through my entrepreneurial journey that you just have to be open to talking about what you do and open to sharing your creative ideas with people,” she said, noting her day job as a graphic designer at Kanbe’s Markets — a job she landed as a result of an internship with HireKC, an employment initiative started by former KCMO Mayor Sly James and now managed by KC Social Innovation Center.
“When I got [to Kanbe’s Markets], I really just dove in. I wasn’t afraid to highlight my skills and talents and they noticed that and loved it — and in return, I get to do some really dope projects.”
Working on projects like the nonprofit micro market’s annual fundraising campaign, Grassroots Growers, Johnson has found a niche — using her talents to spread positive messages within the community she’s grown up in.
“I get to design for change and it’s just really, really rewarding,” she said.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.