Loss is stitched throughout much of Godfrey Riddle’s human story, he said. But its threads don’t define him — and they won’t unravel his mission to bring opportunity to Kansas Citians of every shade, size, and sexuality.
“Being a Black, gay man … I’ve lived through countless experiences of marginalization,” Riddle said, looking back on his life at 32 and the traumas, triumphs, and thimbles sewn throughout his path.
“When I was 13, my family lost our first home to foreclosure. At the time, I couldn’t understand how we live in a world where opportunity is rationed — and I made it my mission to grow up one day and — hopefully — found a business that showed that positive impact and profit are synergistic.”
Riddle kept sight of his personal why into adulthood, working with such nonprofit organizations as Rightfully Sewn to raise more than $10 million citywide for mission-driven work.
“We live in a society where a lot of things are dependent upon how much cash you have in your pocket,” he said. “I’m aware of that and I don’t want organizations that are advocating for meaningful causes to be blocked out of change — simply because they can’t afford it.”
A cancer diagnosis (and survival), the rapid and successive death of both his parents, and the murder of George Floyd in the streets of Minneapolis late last spring provided Riddle with an urgent push to step out of his comfort zone working for others, and build his own business with a similar mission — aptly branded Civic Saint.
“When my parents passed away in pretty quick succession — my dad in July 2018 and my mom in September 2019 — I also battled a rare form of head and neck cancer,” Riddle said.
“All of that really came to a head with George Floyd’s gruesome murder. Going through such a traumatic experience personally — and also societally, it really forces you to think about what’s most important.”
“It really increased the urgency of chasing my dream to start a meaningful company. So that summer I registered my business and worked really hard to launch in October of last year with the collection of affirming apparel and accessories.”
“We’re trying to underwrite a more inclusive world that will benefit all of us,” Riddle said, detailing the ins and outs of Civic Saint’s blossoming fashion and accessories business, which has found a niche with statement tees and lapel pins.
“[Customers] can expect something that will bring meaning to their lives and to their individual journey,” he said, sharing the genesis of Civic Saint’s current lineup — the protest collection.
“It uses affirming words that I personally identify with from my journey — but that I feel others can latch onto. For example, our ‘Survivor’ design was created to honor my cancer journey,” Riddle explained.
“As that’s gotten out into the world, I’ve found that survivors of domestic violence and abuse have latched onto it — as well as survivors of substance abuse. It’s phenomenal that [the design makes them] feel empowered to call out their journey.”
The collection also boasts designs featuring such words as “human,” “persist,” and “BLM.”
Check out Civic Saint’s launch video below, then keep reading.
“Human is based on the ‘I am a man’ protest signs that picketers carried during the sanitation strike in Memphis in the mid-’60s. I wanted to update that design because, for me, man is obviously gendered and stuck in the binary — and we’re all human. That’s what I really wanted to highlight.”
Taking its mission even deeper, Civic Saint has positioned itself as a purposeful lifestyle company, actively working to build a nonprofit action guide that Riddle hopes will aid startup organizations and initiatives in building enduring change in their communities.
“People can expect tangible resources; the actual tools of the trade to organize their fundraising practices, identify prospective donors, understand how to move people through that fundraising pipeline in a way that — beyond getting their money — truly engages them in advocating for you and helping you, because we can’t do it alone,” he explained.
“It’s nice to have someone make a gift, but there’s no reason they can’t give their talent and time in addition to their treasure.”
Click here to learn more about Civic Saint’s forthcoming Action Guide.
Every Purchase Creates Change
“Because we believe and invest in inspiring communities where people are called to live to their full potential, we donate a portion of your purchase to organizations that fight for racial and social equity,” said Riddle.
“We believe that cultural and systemic change must coincide to create meaningful, enduring progress. Our products promote cultural inclusion and elevate artisans from traditionally marginalized backgrounds. We chose the following nonprofit beneficiaries because they work each day to advance institutional change and protect those on the front lines advocating for a just, equitable society.”
Civic Saint has chosen to donate a portion of every purchase to these charities.
As Riddle steps into his new role as leader of Civic Saint, recognizing his origins have become a guidepost he’s hopeful will ultimately inspire others to get involved in their communities and realize long held dreams of their own.
“My parents were awesome — but of course every child says that,” he laughed.
“The lessons that I learned from them were, in a nutshell, concern for community and public service. I have countless memories of my mother and father reaching out to help others. We had a friend and her mother stay with us for a while because they were fleeing a domestic violence situation. We had another family that lived in our basement for a short time because they were temporarily homeless.”
Such experiences helped Riddle develop a more altruistic mindset, he said, noting they were his calls to action — though he might not have realized it at the time.
“It highlighted for me disparities in opportunity and that a lot of the struggles people face are socio-political, economic challenges and not the choice of any one person or family. It’s important that we create nurturing and healthy environments to really diminish a lot of those potentially negative outcomes,” Riddle said.
“It’s surreal to be living this dream that I’ve had since I was 13 years old and I’m grateful. I do wish my parents were here to live it with me … that’s the hardest part. But I do know that they would be proud. … In that sense, they’re with me and get to live a little bit of the journey with me.”
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.