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26 Issues

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Celebrating Black History with The Independent’s Rising Stars

TRAILBLAZER: André Davis, Rising Star Class of 2019

André Davis has often contemplated his legacy. He said, “When we as Brown/Black people are being invited to the ‘table,’ how are we making space for others? I believe we all should consider operating from an ‘abundance’ and not a ‘scarcity’ mindset. It’s not just enough to climb the ladder of success, we also have to lift others up the ladder.”

It is this commitment to diversity and inclusion that leads André to give his time and energy to so many different organizations. He has supported PrepKC, Big Brothers Big Sisters Kansas City, The Beacon, Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri, Big Shifts Foundation, Grandview Education Foundation, Youth Villages, and Head for the Cure just in the last year. He especially enjoys his work with PrepKC and BBBSKC and values the organizations’ work with disinvested urban youth from socioeconomically challenged families. His volunteer efforts with young people in our community include mentoring and helping to guide them to pursue their dreams and goals.

In his job at Built Interior Construction, he holds the title of corporate and community engagement executive. André is also a board or committee member with Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, Kansas City Tomorrow Alumni Association, The Beacon, PrepKC, BBBSKC, and Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri.

André’s Kansas City Favorites:

Black-owned Restaurant: Urban Cafe

African American Artists: The six Black Lives Matter Artists: Adrianne Clayton, Michael Toombs, Avrion Jackson, Vivian Bluett, Warren Harvey, and Harold Smith

African American Creative: Kamia Kindle of Soda Pop Graphics

TRAILBLAZER: Gene Willis, Rising Star Class of 2022

Gene Willis has made community service a central thread throughout his life and career. He currently works at GEHA, where he holds the title of corporate social responsibility manager. From 2004 through 2020, Gene volunteered for Big Brothers Big Sisters Kansas City and mentored three young Black/biracial men. He was an inaugural member of the non profit’s Diversity Task Force and eventually became the co-chair of the expanded Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Board for two years. Additionally, Gene participated in BBBSKC’s SummerBowl fundraiser, and his teams raised more than $60,000 to support mentoring and youth development.

In 2022, Gene volunteered with earlystART to assemble pre-K graduation books for nearly 100 rising kindergarteners in its three-school early education system. The organization serves predominantly communities of color, and its staff reflects this constituency. Other organizations that Gene gives his time and talents to are the Quixotic Foundation, where he serves as vice chair of the board of directors, Starlight Theatre, as a member of the community engagement committee, and [as a board member for Nonprofit Connect.] Gene is also a board member and serves on the scholarship committee of Greater Kansas City Community Foundation’s Second Chance Scholarship. He led a keynote session for the Black Community Fund (Greater Kansas City Community Foundation) on non-profit storytelling/marketing, with more than 35 Black-founded/focused non-profit leaders in attendance. Gene also walks dogs and assists with volunteer duties for Great Plains SPCA.

Gene’s Kansas City Favorites:

Black-owned Business: Candice McField Fitness

African American Author: C.L. Fails

African American Artist: Photographer Kenny Johnson

TRAILBLAZER: Henry Wash, Rising Star Class of 2015

Henry Wash is the founder and chief executive officer of High Aspirations, an organization that provides an all-African American, faith-based mentoring program, with the goal of nurturing young men’s ability to succeed and become the leaders of tomorrow. The organization serves youth in Kansas City’s urban core, with the majority of young men coming from single parent households. 

Henry and his team are always striving to develop innovative ways to improve the quality of the participants’ lives in spiritual, emotional, social, and academic ways. Graduates of the program have improved their GPAs, gone to college or the military, pursued a trade, and found stable employment. Henry has more than 21 years of experience in designing, implementing, and evaluating programming for at-risk populations. He gathered peer reviewed research to develop the organization while serving as a graduate teaching and research assistant at UMKC’s Henry W. Bloch School of Business.  

In addition to his work at High Aspirations, Henry serves as a board member or committee member with Caring For Kids Network, KC Common Good, and Children’s Campus Kansas City, Kansas. 

Henry’s Kansas City Favorites:

Black-owned Business: T-Shirt King

Black-owned Restaurant: Peach Tree Cafe

African American Artist: Anthony High

TRAILBLAZER: India Williams, Rising Star Class of 2020

As the forward director at KIPP KC, India Williams works to expose, engage, and create meaningful experiences for the high school students who attend the KIPP: Endeavor Academy. This also includes supporting students as they prepare for and select the right college and career based on their interests and passions, along with helping them navigate the academic, social, and financial challenges they might encounter while in college or pursuing a career. 

The initiative supports the Kauffman Foundation Real World Learning promise within several districts across the region. The organization has partnered with MINDDRIVE, Global One Urban Farm, Latinx Education Collaborative, and many other non profits to fulfill its mission to prepare students for life after high school. India also proudly supports the Angel Hands Art Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of youth through art. It was founded by Savanna Williams, who has donated her paintings to raise money for organizations such as the Third and Long Foundation, St. Jude Hospital, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City, Rose Brooks Center, and many more. India was appointed by the Mayor to the Kansas City Public Library board of trustees. She also serves as a board member for the Black/Brown Coalition and was a founding member of the Sisters’ Circle of Greater Kansas City.

India’s Kansas City Favorites:

African American Creative: Keliah Smith, Crwnd Illustrations

Black-owned Business: Shardae Nichole’s Vivid Events KC

African American Poet: Glenn North

TRAILBLAZER: Jason Carter-Solomon, Rising Star Class of 2020

In his role as senior vice president of Landmark National Bank, Jason Carter-Solomon has worked with entrepreneurs and executives in small to mid-size businesses to provide working capital loans, structure loans for asset purchases, as well as business mergers and acquisitions. His long career reflects his experience with urban redevelopment tools and incentives. He currently serves as president of the board for the Kansas City Automotive Museum and serves on a special standing committee to address tax incentive reform for the City of Kansas City, Missouri. One of his career goals has been to help curb losses and raise financial awareness to keep non-profit missions on target and financially sustainable. 

In addition to his work with the Kansas City Automotive Museum, Jason also serves as a guest lecturer and panelist for the Urban Land Institute and the University of Missouri–Kansas City Bloch School of Management. 

Jason’s Kansas City Favorites:

Black-owned Business: Todd’s Clothiers

Black-owned Eatery: Yogurtini

African American Artist: Warren ‘Stylez’ Harvey

TRAILBLAZER: Klassie Alcine, Rising Star Class of 2017

Klassie Alcine is doing wonderful work in our community. As the chief executive officer of KC Common Good, she focuses on a comprehensive, community-based approach to reducing violence, building stronger community relations, increasing access to education and jobs, and implementing responsible justice reforms. The organization has partnered with PROX, a real world learning initiative, to bring paid internship opportunities and summer professional experiences to high school students. This provides opportunities for students to earn market value assets, learn essential skills, and build social capital. Klassie stated, “Participating youth showed increased growth in career literacy, career exploration, and networking. Kansas City youth are connected with the skills that can help them plan for the future, increasing high school graduation rates and post-secondary jobs. Others should support PROX because youth need caring adults to help inspire and support them as they grow into adulthood.”

In addition to her work at KC Common Good, Klassie has also supported Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Kansas City, the AdHoc Group Against Crime, The Beacon, Madam President Camp, PREP-KC, and Junior Achievement of Greater Kansas City.

Klassie’s Kansas City Favorites:

African American Creative: Thalia Cherry of Cherry Sports Gear

Black-owned Restaurant: Boho Sway at Canary

TRAILBLAZER: Terri Barnes, Rising Star Class of 2016

Terri Barnes is the founder and president of The Nia Project Kansas City, an organization that helps build confidence, capacity, and opportunity for Black girls and women. It works to raise awareness and financial support for organizations and individuals doing impactful work and their efforts help bring the community together towards these goals. Terri stated, “Through my work at The Nia Project, I’ve had the wonderful privilege of supporting a variety of non-profit organizations. I am most proud of celebrating five years of hosting Black Women Get Fit – A Health and Wellness experience.”

Terri also sponsored a Thank A Teacher Campaign to recognize Kindergarten through 12th grade teachers in our community. Teachers were given goodie baskets, photos, money, and more. Additionally, Terri convened the first annual Black Nonprofit Leadership Symposium, where leaders in the community shared their secrets to successful and sustainable non profits. 

Terri also supports A-Flat Orchestra, National Black United Front-KC, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City, The Village Kansas City, and BizTown through Junior Achievement of Greater Kansas City.

Terri’s Kansas City Favorites:

Black-owned Business: IRIS Creative Projects Agency

African American Artist: Singer and Songwriter Elton Gumbel

Black-owned Restaurant: Wah Gwan

Featured in the February 4, 2023 issue of The Independent.
Photo Credit: Tom Styrkowicz