Out of frustration of the lack of support for small, Black-owned businesses, Christopher Stewart made a Facebook post in a Kansas City Black-owned business group that would start a movement.

To the group’s 15,000 members, Stewart posted:

“If all of us gave $10 a month, that’s $150,000 a month. That’s $1.8 million a year,” Stewart said. “That’s more than enough money for us to start up a number of Black-owned businesses right here in our own community. We don’t need a bank. We can control our own, you know, we just need to come together and do it.”

Brandon Calloway, Stewart’s friend who has a background in nonprofit work, saw the post and suggested they go to work on his vision.

Originally from Kansas City, Stewart, a songwriter and rapper known as “LOKC” lives in Houston.  Among his dreams was becoming a successful artist and return to KC to help build the community.

He’s always believed that it’s up to him and others who live in the community to rebuild it, versus depending on help from the outside.  That’s what inspired Stewart and Calloway to create GIFT, Generating Income for Tomorrow, a nonprofit the two started in May. Their main goals are improving the urban core by creating more jobs, building generational wealth and reducing poverty-related crime, all by funding local businesses in need.

Through GIFT, donors can give via a recurring monthly subscription of $10 or more, or via a one-time donation of any amount.  Then through an application and selection process, the funds are “gifted” to support Black-owned businesses in Kansas City’s urban core.

As an organization run by a volunteer board of directors, the non-profit is able to gift all of the proceeds from individual donations to businesses in need.

GIFT is unique is because it’s people from or living in the area helping businesses in the community, while many other massive nonprofits may not have that level of interest in the community they serve, Calloway said.

“I feel like by boosting up Black-led nonprofits that are focused on the Black community, we can really take big steps and make transformational change as opposed to how it’s been done,” Calloway said, explaining that something has not been working when it comes to support for Black-owned businesses in the urban core.

“We’re right here in the mud ourselves,” Stewart said, “we can push this mud out the way and lay concrete our d*$n selves, so you know we don’t need nobody else.”

Earlier this month, in their first fundraising effort, GIFT raised over $10,000 that was awarded to Ruby Jean’s Juicery, an otherwise strong business in the community that was challenged by mandatory COVID-19 shutdowns.  Spring and summer are normally Ruby Jean’s busiest seasons, but during that period they brought in just 10% to 15% of their normal sales.

“Ruby Jean’s is a staple in our community and we had a good amount of success, so we had the ability to help them,” Calloway said. The grant from GIFT is helping Ruby Jean’s catch up from months of lost sales.

Many of the donations that went to Ruby Jean’s came from people in the urban core community and Calloway said the number of givers is increasing. Since GIFT’s first donation in May, there have been 280 donors and 140 of those have signed up as monthly recurring donors.

With their initial success, Stewart and Calloway wanted to keep growing and impact even more businesses. So, on August 25, GIFT had their Day of Giving, with a goal of raising $150,000 to gift to seven Black-owned businesses located in the urban core.

 “We didn’t want to lose that engagement. We wanted people to know that we were serious about this and really getting it pushing,” Stewart said.

They are still asking for one-time or monthly donations and for people to help spread the word by sharing their posts on Instagram and Facebook.

GIFT’s application for Black-owned businesses to request funding assistance opens Oct. 1.  The application is on their website www.KansasCityGift.org. Preference will be given to majority Black-owned businesses located in the Kansas City urban core.  The business must have a plan for how they will the funds and preference will be given to those businesses planning to create more jobs.

The business will need to submit proof of their organizational structure and a recent financial statement. GIFT is not currently taking applications from start-up businesses.

To donate, go to www.KansasCityGift.org or text GIFTKC to 44-321.

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Jazzlyn Johnson

Jazzlyn "Jazzie” is the former senior reporter for our team, who joined the company in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, through the Report for America service program. For the past two years, she covered...

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