Donald Maxwell is a lot of things: business developer, community builder, and mentor to some of Kansas City’s movers and shakers – but there’s one thing he’s not … and that’s complacent.

“I wake up every morning, ready to go,” Maxwell said. “For an old guy, I have to do something to stay busy, to stay active. I think that that’s the secret to success, to keep active.”

At 76, success is something Mr. Maxwell has in abundance. Born and raised in Kansas City, Maxwell is a graduate of the Kansas City public school system and the University of Missouri- Kansas City. For 20 years, he served as president of the Community Development Corporation of Kansas City (CDCKC), a nonprofit created to support and revitalize impoverished or struggling areas of Kansas City.

It was here, using his vision and guidance, that CDCKC was able to leverage millions of dollars for housing, social services, commercial and industrial development to rehabilitate the Prospect Corridor, the section of Prospect Avenue between 27th and 55th streets.

His work earned him the nickname the “Godfather of Development” in Kansas City’s urban core, which he is admirably referred to by his peers and mentees to this day.

Through all of it, Maxwell said he’s stayed motivated by his commitment to creating positive change in the community.

“A good friend of mine, Bernard Powell, coined the phrase, ‘ghetto or goldmine, the choice is yours,’ and realistically, that’s how I feel,” Maxwell said. “We can leave the ghetto the way it is, and exist, or we can try to change it.”

Over the course of his career, Maxwell has taken that to heart. He has helped develop the Linwood Square Shopping Center at 31st and Linwood, which helped jumpstart the economic redevelopment of the Prospect Corridor. He helped develop the Palestine Seniors Citizen Activity Center and apartments, which provide affordable housing, recreational, leisure and health and wellness programs to community seniors. 

He has also worked with the Full Employment Council of Kansas City to create a program to find employment opportunities for individuals with drug convictions and training programs for young entrepreneurs.

As a young person, Maxwell said he was helped by mentors, that’s why he said redevelopment of the community is in part the development of its young people.

“I had lots of mentors, and I got a lot of help from people from my community,” Maxwell said. “But that’s what it’s all about, giving young people the chance, the opportunity to do some of the same things I had the opportunity to do.”

Maxwell said often his days are filled with appointments and meetings with young people who are seeking his help or advice, which he’s always happy to provide. But whether they should take his advice or not is another matter entirely.

“A lot of folks come to me for information and my opinion and sometimes I got a good opinion, and sometimes they wish they had gone someplace else,” Maxwell said with a chuckle. “But so many people my age, have the expertise, and they’re at home watching television. There’s nothing coming from that.”

Maxwell said that for all his success he also had failures but those experiences didn’t deter him from continuing to reach his goals.

“We can talk about all these successes but I certainly had a bunch of failures,” he said. “I’ve had bad things happen and knock me down, but I don’t dwell on it. The sun comes up tomorrow.”

When asked if he had a goal or a vision for the rest of his life, his answer was much like what he’s spent the past 76 years doing.

“Keep bringing opportunities to the community, keep trying to change things. I’m committed to my community, and changing things,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell continues to offer his guidance as the president of the Prospect Business Association, which is an entrepreneurial support and business organization with a vision of building a healthy community and a more vibrant Kansas City through business, economic and community development.

Jacob Martin covered news that focuses on housing and equality issues in Kansas City. Prior to joining our team, he worked as a general assignments reporter with KCUR in Kansas City. A Louisville, Kentucky...