KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nika Cotton pours comforting creations at her tea room, Soulcentricitea, seven days a week.
She helps her customers decide on a concoction that suits their mood for the day.
"I have lemon balm, which is really calming," Cotton said to her guests.
She envisions her space at East 30th Street and Troost Avenue will serve many functions in the community.
"A space of comfort, also empowerment," Cotton said. "I'm a community organizer at heart and so it's really my passion to create a space that can be a space that brings people together to organize to do the things we want to see in our community."
That sense of community empowerment comes full circle at Soulcentricitea. She's the recent recipient of a $25,000 grant that will help her hire another employee.
"It's really economic development and whole system revitalization through the expansion of Black-owned businesses," Brandon Calloway, executive director of G.I.F.T., or Generating Income For Tomorrow, said.
G.I.F.T. is a nonprofit dedicated to that mission. Calloway and his co-founders have helped raise $240,000 since May to provide grants to Black-owned businesses like Cotton's.
Calloway said a little more than half of the funds came not from individual people.
"People know that red-lining existed. People know that the east side of Kansas City is made to be an economic desert for Black and Brown people," Calloway said. "People didn't know what to do about it, so when we provided a tangible solution, the people of the city jumped at it."
In May, Calloway and his co-founders came up with the idea for G.I.F.T. and launched it within five days. They are part of the Black-Owned Business KC Facebook group, which now consists of more than 22,000 people. At the time, they thought how impactful it would be if each of those group members donated a small amount every month to support one another.
"It's a huge help to me," Cotton said. "I mean, it's almost like a miracle; to have access to that kind of capital to be able to grow my business is amazing."
G.I.F.T. provides wraparound support to businesses beyond the grant, including business and financial consultation for one year, as well as marketing planning. They also partner with Husch Blackwell to give free legal representation.
Calloway anticipates G.I.F.T. will receive more than 100 grant applications by spring. With the idea that if everyone donated just $10, they could fulfill every application.
"It brings validation to the fact that we can grow the east side the way we envisioned it to grow," Calloway said.
For Cotton, it's not just realizing her dream, but strengthening a foundation for her children and the next generation.
"To have people flourishing that look like them, to have businesses in the area that look like you really gives you a sense of empowerment and esteem," Cotton said.
G.I.F.T. plans to issue eight grants this year.
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