A year after Black Lives Matter demonstrations opened minds across the nation, Jamie Grayson sees progress in Kansas City, the home of his own movement, designed to disrupt division by celebrating commonalities.
Newly announced this week: three sizable grants for Grayson’s People of All Colors Succeed (POAC), a nonprofit organization committed to breaking systemic cycles of bullying and unconscious bias through courageous conversations. The $225,000 in funding comes from Blue KC ($150,000), Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation ($50,000) and Kansas City Credit Union ($25,000), opening future opportunities for workplace diversity education in the Kansas City area and beyond.
“I think the things that unfolded in 2020 opened a lot of people’s eyes — maybe for the first time. Unfortunately, it’s not brand new to myself and those who look like me,” Grayson said, sharing his experience as a Black man in America and the corporate world.
“One of the key things in my life journey that’s helped me was growing up in a small town with a single parent who taught us the importance of empathy, the importance of acceptance, the importance of casting a vision and seeing yourself in an environment that — oftentimes — you maybe didn’t start in.”
“At People of All Colors Succeed (POAC), we believe everyone has a voice and a responsibility to create change. By partnering with schools and businesses, we can help others identify their biases and help foster an environment for growth and healthy dialogue.”
“Our mission is to build diverse communities grounded in understanding, acceptance and inclusion, and a future free from biases.”
Click here to learn more about POAC.
Such an experience inspired Grayson to found POAC in 2019.
“We focus on humanizing the conversation — finding things that we have in common versus [making assumptions based on] the 10 percent [of a person] we see with our optics,” he explained, noting the effort has primarily focused on working with students in area schools, but also includes corporate training.
“We’ve created a curriculum around unconscious biases and understanding how to connect with each other — away from just our race,” Grayson continued.
“Our call to action for all students is to learn the other 90 percent. And it’s amazing because when we go back to these schools, we see these students talking about [what they] did based upon that 90 percent and getting out of [their] own way. They’re creating new friendships, they’re creating new allies, they’re becoming a protector of each other through the hallways and the cafeteria.”
The organization recently launched a real-world learning effort in partnership with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation — and with additional support from Kansas City Credit Union — designed to create access to job and internship opportunities for marginalized high school students, drawing on Grayson’s 20-plus years of experience in local banking, he added.
“It’s been an opportunity to connect the dots, allowing these students to see that success can also look pretty solid for them if provided the right opportunities,” Grayson said, noting the program also leverages his background as an athlete.
“We want to help [students] see other types of industries that may not be presented to them. We want to be intentional about helping marginalized groups of students see that you can have a luxurious career being an architect. You can have a luxurious career being a lawyer, a dentist, whatever it is.”
Additionally, the program focuses on equipping students with a solid understanding of soft and hard skills and the role each plays in the workplace.
“I always say your hard skills get you in the door, but it’s your soft skills that keep you in the door. And so we want to teach these students how to stay in the game.”
Click here to learn more about POAC or to connect with Grayson and the organization.
Watch a video featuring POAC student members below, then keep reading.
Not only does Grayson believe POAC can keep momentum building for student success, equipping the next generation with necessary tools and ideas to build a healthier and more understanding Kansas City, the organization itself is well positioned to keep the constructive conversations of the past year going strong, he said.
“We’re finally at a place where people are talking about [things people of color experience]. And, to me, that’s key,” he said.
“As those conversations are being had, I think it’s important to find that safe space where we can go deep in conversations and understand what words and definitions may mean,” Grayson continued.
“What we’ve done is given the next generation of leaders the vernacular to speak on those terms earlier in life — so when they’re adults in the corporate world, like we are, it’s something they can build on.”
And everyone — no matter their color — has a responsibility to be a voice for change, Grayson said.
“I spoke with a teacher when I first started this journey and I gave her a domino. She said to me just recently, ‘I look at this domino every single day. I come to my classroom and try to find an opportunity to bring a spark to a student that’s just going through it,’” he recalled.
“It’s just amazing how the symbolization of just a domino falling can change how people perceive things and how they think of things. … That’s the beauty of this mission — and it’s not my mission. It’s a mission everyone can rally behind and [they can] be those dominoes,” Grayson continued.
“I’m excited to bring those along with me who are ready for inclusive change and intentional change. We’re not a check the box organization. I’ve been around long enough to be a part of that and it doesn’t feel good. There are a lot of marginalized groups of people, from various backgrounds, and they know how that looks and feels,” he said.
“We don’t have time to sugar coat these messages anymore because this is life and death for some people.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that seeks to build inclusive prosperity through a prepared workforce and entrepreneur-focused economic development. The Foundation works to change conditions, address root causes, and break down systemic barriers so that all people – regardless of race, gender, or geography – have the opportunity to achieve economic stability, mobility, and prosperity.