Dontavious Young will happily brew customers at Equal Minded Cafe a chai or latte, but his main goal is to blend ideas, not ingredients.
“Our mission is to provide resources, opportunities, and connections to people from all districts of Kansas City,” said Young, the property owner, event coordinator, and cafe manager at Equal Minded Cafe.
“We want to create lasting connections with a focus on breaking down systemic barriers that have disproportionately affected Black individuals,” Young added.
The cafe’s location at 4327 Troost Avenue — inside of Ubuntu Village, a gathering space for businesses focused on spiritual and holistic healing — uniquely positions Equal Minded Cafe to foster those relationships, Young said.
“Troost has a long history of dividing us,” he said. “I’m focused on bringing us back together. Demographically, in part because of our location, we’re very focused on highlighting Black individuals. That’s how equity works: you have to give more to the people who have been wronged.”
Young, 26, opened Equal Minded Cafe in 2018 at Ubuntu Village, which is owned by Dr. Vicky Smith, a longtime educator in Kansas City, and Young’s maternal grandmother.
He characterized the spot as “a family project” that he got involved with because he and his grandmother shared the same values.
Growing up, Young bounced back and forth between Kansas City and his hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, before settling in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the majority of his high school years.
The racial division and gang violence he witnessed as a teenager in Waterloo — his best friend was killed when Young was 13 years old — provided part of his inspiration to create a space like Equal Minded Cafe, he said; a place where the community can find strength and unity through conversation and connection over coffee.
“We’re stronger together, now more than ever, in our fight for equity and justice,” Young said.
Having outlasted the worst of the pandemic — an accomplishment Young credited to the “regulars” who supported the business with delivery and carryout orders — Equal Minded Cafe is now positioned for even more growth, he said.
“We made it through because of the people who love us and invested in our growth,” Young said. “I’ve learned that people in Kansas City are ride or die for real, for you and your business.”
One very tangible form of investment came last fall from Kansas City G.I.F.T., which awarded Equal Minded Cafe with a $30,000 grant.
“That has been a blessing,” Young said. “It’s just changed so much for us.”
The grant funding allowed the cafe to build out a new bartop, as well as add more equipment and food items to the menu — including eggs, bacon, sausage, chorizo, and vegan alternatives, Young said.
Beyond the dollars, G.I.F.T. also provides a year of business services to all its grant awardees, which Young said Equal Minded Cafe was using to redo its website.
“Having the G.I.F.T. name behind us is really comforting and gives us credibility with a lot of people,” Young said. “A lot more people are hearing about us now, so G.I.F.T. has really been a game changer for us.”
Young’s focus for 2023 is going “full force” on applying for additional funding to build out the cafe’s staff and operations budget, he said.
Plugging into community
Beyond the cafe’s regular morning and afternoon hours, Young organizes community events at Equal Minded Cafe, including a quarterly late night “open mic” competition, with the next one scheduled for June 23.
The cafe also hosts a panel discussion featuring successful local entrepreneurs on the final Friday of each month, held in partnership with Think to Win.
On April 20, Equal Minded Cafe is planning a “Puff, Puff, Paint” paint event, which coincides with Young’s goal to make all events at the cafe 420-friendly in order for marijuana users to feel welcomed and encouraged to participate.
“We create a space that’s friendly to marijuana, and that opens up the door for a lot of creatives who may be more introverted people who’d rather stay at home and smoke to feel more comfortable because they’re not being judged for that,” Young said.
Equal Minded Cafe also has a licensed drink vendor on-site for events, Young said.
Young feels the most valuable and rewarding part of his work is what he described as “almost business consulting,” in which he partners with local small business owners and entrepreneurs to offer the cafe for them to do a pop-up sale, sometimes free of charge.
“That’s how I get the most return,” he said. “I just care about seeing people win. Plugging them in with my network and giving them opportunities is so amazing. It’s not a lot of money, but it’s a lot of wealth.”
A hub for warriors
Moving ahead, Young hopes to keep building on Equal Minded Cafe’s mission, in addition to expanding his work to other areas.
He’s in the process of starting a nonprofit organization that would allow public high school students in Kansas City to earn college credit for coursework focused on business strategies, he said.
The students would have the opportunity to run their own business as part of a cohort, Young added, noting that the broader goal is to encourage young people to pursue higher education and entrepreneurship.
That doesn’t mean Equal Minded Cafe will be going anywhere, Young cautioned, adding that he understands the special importance of running a coffee shop in a Black community, which he said are too few and far in between.
He expects the cafe to continue growing through word of mouth — customers rave about the chai, he said. Meanwhile, Young said he draws inspiration from the “warriors” in Kansas City who make Equal Minded Cafe a place where diversity, equity, and connection thrive.
“What’s so great about Kansas City is that warriors are here,” Young said. “The people here are fighting to change the world, and a lot of people don’t even know about it. We’re a place that’s passionate about that work, and we’re a hub for those warriors.”