Kansas City Scholars: Mr. K’s Uncommon Way of Teaching Us to Work Together

“You, you, and every one of you can go to college if you choose!”

That was Ewing Kauffman’s rallying cry in 1987 to students at his Westport High School alma mater, marking a pledge that would extend well beyond his passing in 1993. That moment signaled the beginning of the Project Choice program, laid groundwork for the Kauffman Scholars initiative, and illuminated a path to college for 3,500 Kansas City students over the ensuing 30 years.

Last night at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, that same rallying cry was amplified and broadcast to high school and adult-aged students across the metro area – there is a path to-and-through college. Ewing Kauffman’s commitment to Kansas City is once again lighting the way.

Developed with input from over 70 community members, Kansas City Scholars (KC Scholars) will begin accepting applications in January for college scholarships and a college savings match program that will not only provide financial support, but vital coaching and advising to ensure anyone entering college as a KC Scholar has every opportunity to finish.

KC Scholars is more than a college access program – it is a college success campaign fueled by the passion and experience of leaders from across Kansas City.

“All of the money in the world cannot solve problems unless we work together. 
And if we work together, there is no problem in the world that can stop us…”

Mr. Kauffman’s words spoken shortly before his passing represent hard-earned wisdom about how to get things done, but are deceptive in their simplicity. Aligning resources, people, expectations, and activities toward a common end requires a level of trust, commitment, and patience that can test even the noblest efforts.

KC Scholars represents a vision presented to community and education leaders last year by the Kauffman Foundation to serve more students, achieve better outcomes, and engage the community to create something together that represents more than any one organization could achieve on its own.

Since that time, I have been fortunate to see dozens of civic, business, education, and community leaders work side-by-side to breathe life into KC Scholars and validate Mr. Kauffman’s words with a metro-sized exclamation point. When the result of their collective work was announced last night, it represented the potential to positively impact thousands (if not tens-of-thousands) of lives over the coming years.

The Kauffman Foundation is committing $79 million over the next 10 years to launch KC Scholars, which will guarantee funding for the first 2,000 students. But we know the gap between the number of college graduates and the number of quality jobs to fill is a lot larger. Every individual and organization in Kansas City has the opportunity to be a part of KC Scholars – and your last name doesn’t have to be Kauffman to do so. Anyone can donate their time or money to KC Scholars and I am confident this community will make KC Scholars its own and enable more students and adult learners to complete their college education and get a good job. Their future is our future.

Learn more about KC Scholars and the people who made it happen in the video below.

The leadership provided by Dr. Beth Tankersley-Bankhead at the Kauffman Foundation and the members of the committees and workgroups she convened over the last year is truly uncommon. My gratitude, and that of the Kauffman Foundation, to these uncommon leaders is deep.

"It's your right to be uncommon if you can. You seek opportunity to compete. You desire to take the calculated risk, to dream, to build, yes, even to fail, and to succeed." 

Perhaps in the year marking his 100th birthday, the words of the people who represent Mr. Kauffman’s uncommon legacy and what it can continue to yield for even greater numbers of students is the best way to say thank you to those who have guided KC Scholars and to inspire those who will carry it forward. #BeUncommon and #EMK100.


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Aaron North

Aaron North is vice president of Education at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Prior to joining the Foundation, North served as the founding executive director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association (MCPSA). Before leading the startup effort at MCPSA, North worked in Minnesota as a charter school sponsor, school resource center director, and in the Minnesota Department of Education's Office of Choice and Innovation. He also served as secretary for an urban elementary charter school board in Minneapolis.