This interview is part of the “Ecosystem Builders” series. More information about the ESHIP Communities program can be found here.
Q: What is your deeper “why” behind your commitment and work to support inclusive entrepreneurship in Kansas City?
A: Honestly the history of Kansas City has not been so pleasant for Black citizens here. Looking back, there were some seriously corrupt politics during the twentieth century that allowed developers like J. C. Nichols to redline specific areas from inclusion in development/bank loans, which kept whole generations of Black families separated from full inclusion.
These practices began to exist in the city during the ‘30s, and some would say even up to this very day. Due to redlining, housing discrimination and other discrimination tactics, certain areas of the city (east of Troost) didn’t experience the same opportunity or financial resources and development as more influential/affluent areas of Kansas City.
There are certain areas of our city that are completely dilapidated. It is extremely vital to me and my team that we ‘even the playing field’ and create even more opportunities and invest in these neglected and underserved areas that are still impacted by past corruption.
Q: What is something that’s happening in Kansas City right now that you are excited about?
A: I am really excited with the growth and development that’s going on in the city right now. It’s great to be in KC during this really exciting time, and being able to capitalize on some of the momentum the city has gotten over the past 5-8 years.
Q: What is the change you are seeing or hope to see as a result of your commitment to this work?
A: I decided to sacrifice my personal financial gain in the short-term, to help others build a better society. Breaking down walls for others and solving hard problems are the things that motivate me.
"We are looking to partner with more organizations that share the same vision and mission to create a direct change..."
Chef Esra, Ecosystem Builder
Q: What about your life or work would you like other’s to know about you?
A: I am a God-fearing family man with three children (Journey, Jordan, and Jaylah) and a spouse (Amanda). I graduated from Michigan State University with a BS in Clinical Laboratory Science in 2008. After working in corporate America for 10 years, I decided to pursue my passion for cooking. I enrolled in culinary courses at The Culinary Center of KC (Overland Park). After graduating in 2016, I started the KC Cajun Food Truck and Catering Kansas City catering service.
We have been working with various groups such as Disabled But Not Really and Mark Launiu with the District KC to help create more opportunities for youth in our communities. Things like workshops, fundraisers, healthy food giveaways, and eventually even scholarships. We are looking to partner with more organizations that share the same vision and mission to create a direct change.
Q: What advice would you give for someone who is wanting to help build greater equity in the entrepreneurial ecosystem/community here in Kansas City?
A: You have to support each other. Many times programs are set up and resources are dedicated but they are not being delegated equitably. You have to ensure you are doing your part to be a part of the solution (supporting small businesses, expanding support programs, voting for the correct politicians) and not part of the problem.
Q: Can you share an example of how the ecosystem has supported you?
A: The Ennovation Center in Independence and Square One have been extremely influential in the success of KC Cajun. They helped tremendously in the initial start-up phase as well as provided the much needed resources to navigate through the process.
Q: What do you consider to be your life’s work?
A: I am trying to create opportunity and education for people who are in the margins (ex-cons, ex-addicts, high school dropouts etc.) and those who feel as though corporate America has turned its back on them.
I also believe it is extremely important to be a positive role model for the youth in my community and to invest as much time and resources as I can to educate others about business and opportunities in business. Ultimately, I hope this will provide an outlet and vision for our youth to see the potential and benefits of learning a trade and becoming an entrepreneur.
Overall, people from my community and background don’t always see a way out of their current situation. I believe if I can be that inspiration to any person, then I have succeeded in my mission.
Q: What are you most proud of that’s come from the entrepreneurial community work in Kansas City that you’ve been a part of? How has that impacted the community?
A: Working on different councils such as with ESHIP Kansas City has allowed me to voice my views and work in improvement projects to help create change. I am also a part of a team that is pursuing internship and scholarship programs for culinary art skills and training programs for our youth.
DID SOMETHING IN THIS INTERVIEW INSPIRE YOU?
Get in touch with Chef Esra and Kansas City Cajun here