KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Asia Jones used to find the idea of being an activist intimidating – until she found Shirley's Kitchen Cabinet.
Jones is one of more than 2,000 women on the mailing list for the Kansas City, Missouri, nonprofit, which focuses on amplifying the voices of Black women, and helping them harness their strengths to change their community for the better.
"We hear a lot of stuff about, 'Speak for yourself, and be an advocate,'" Jones said, "and my question was always, 'How?'"
But, after attending a Shirley's Kitchen Cabinet meeting, Jones said she realized there's more to advocacy and outreach than marches and public speaking.
Jones was inspired to start a series of events called, "Yas, Sis," bringing in women with experience to teach younger women economic basics, from balancing a budget to maintaining a successful 401(k). They also cover topics of physical and mental health.
"If I’m not mentally or physically well and I don’t know how to become well in those areas or get to the next level, I can’t advocate," she said. "I can’t properly advocate for myself or for someone else."
Jones also said, thanks to Shirley's KC, she learned she could make a difference on a smaller, personal scale. She joined the organization in pushing for Kansas City to adopt the Crown Act, legislation that prohibits businesses from discriminating based on a person's hair style.
She posted a picture on social media showing her natural hair to bring attention to the issue.
"It was just my way of saying, 'Hey, this is my hair in its natural state, and there's nothing wrong with it,'" Jones said.
The Crown Act passed, thanks in part to Kansas City Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw.
"We were the second municipality in the country to pass the Crown Act," Parks-Shaw said.
But, she said she wouldn't have been in a position to fight for change as a council member had she not walked into her first Shirley's Kitchen Cabinet meeting.
"When they had their first event back in 2018, I wanted to participate, really to learn how to be a better advocate," Parks-Shaw said. "It was posed to me that I would make an excellent candidate, and I walked out literally running for office."
And that's what this nonprofit is all about, bringing women together for meetings, seminars and workshops to teach and encourage
Founder Michele Watley said in the early stages of the organization, surveys were sent out to see what issues were most important to Black women. The results provided four key areas – economic prosperity, health and vitality, education, and the eradication of violence..
"We go about our work in three ways," Watley said, "wielding the collective power of Black women, bringing Black women together as one collective force to seek change, and providing training and education opportunities."
The goal is for women to have the resources and connections to help them step into advocacy roles, whether it's in the public realm like Parks-Shaw or behind the scenes, as has been the case for Jones.
"If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair," Watley said. "So, we're helping Black women bring a folding chair and we are building new tables."
It's a saying that is attributed to the organization's namesake, Shirley Chisolm, the first Black woman in Congress.
The organization hopes to one day take its model nationwide, and leaders said they've already received interest from cities in California and New York.