Dr. DeAngela Burns-Wallace wears the legacy of Ewing Kauffman on her shoulders, she said. Inspired by the Kauffman Foundation’s namesake, the organization’s new president and CEO opened the doors to its headquarters this week, offering insight into how she plans to lead with intention.
“We must match the needs of the communities we serve,” she told the crowd. “We want to be in the community. We want to be present. We want to be alongside you, and we need your voices.”
Just 52 days into her pivotal role at the foundation, Burns-Wallace took the stage during a “blue carpet” meet-and-greet on the grounds of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation — giving community members, business leaders, and partners a look behind the scenes. (Editor’s note: Startland News is a grantee of the Kauffman Foundation.)
“People have told me they’ve never been on this side of the Kauffman Foundation,” she said.
Burns-Wallace incorporated the spirit of Kauffman and the foundation throughout her remarks — and her outfit. She sported custom sneakers with the Kauffman K logo — designed by the Kansas City shoe store and social venture startup One Pair — and wore a tailored suit jacket from Michael’s Fine Clothing, the Main Street retailer where Kauffman shopped for his suits.
“The story goes that Mrs. Kauffman actually went down to Michael’s, picked out all of his clothes and had them out on a rack ready. Then Mr. Kauffman would ride up, get out, walk into room three, and they would just continuously bring the jackets in,” Burns-Wallace shared. “In honor of Mr. K, they took one of their men’s suit jackets that mirrors one of his, and they cut it for me tonight.”
She spoke passionately about the legacy of Kauffman, highlighting the design of the Kauffman Foundation building as open arms to the community, specifically toward Troost Avenue and the city’s east side.
“Mr. Kauffman was intentional in everything that he did. He was clear about what his legacy was, and this building was a piece of his legacy,” said Burns-Wallace. “It is not just a state of the art conference center that you can meet in. In Mr. Kauffman’s eyes, part of the work was ensuring that there were spaces where we could dream, innovate and find solutions together.”
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation had been a beacon of innovation and collaboration since its inception in 1966, with its conference center offering a free space for 501(c)(3) organizations to convene and create, she said.
But Burns-Wallace didn’t just focus on the past; she looked to the future, emphasizing the importance of community partnerships, and thanking an extensive list of businesses and organizations — as well as residential and institutional neighbors — that had rallied behind their mission.
“I take this moment to acknowledge all of the support,” she said. “One, because we can not do it alone, and two, because our work is founded in ensuring that business owners and entrepreneurs are able to thrive and survive.”
Burns-Wallace also recognized her personal support system, from her parents to her glam squad, for enabling her to show up every day for the community.
“I cannot be in the places where the doors have opened for me every evening without those individuals behind me supporting me, loving me, and encouraging me,” she said.
That backing helps her to push forward the foundation’s mission of promoting education and entrepreneurship: the cornerstones of Mr. Kauffman’s vision, Burns-Wallace continued.
“Mr. K talks about a shared vision of economic stability and prosperity for all. He believes because of his own journey, that was through a path of education and the ability to start your own business, so that you had the tools in your hand to control your destiny,” she said.
The Kauffman Foundation is launching a community survey to help determine how it works to shape that destiny, Burns-Wallace said, calling for feedback, both positive and constructive. She encouraged the audience to hold the foundation accountable for its impact.
Click here to take the community survey.
“We can’t just sit in celebration. It is time to be Kauffman-on-the-move and engage, learn, and evolve,” she said. “We have to learn how to show up in partnership. We have to engage in the way that we do our work. We have to continue to evolve the impact that is necessary for us to help be a part of the solution.”