S.J. (2)

SJ Hazim
SJ Hazim

“I look at the world without walls. I never met anybody that I was afraid to go talk to, or shake their hand or introduce myself. So my biggest challenge is to not let the naysayers get me down, which doesn’t happen often. But everyone has feelings and no one likes it hearing those negative things. Like, people often talk bad about Topeka and about the people who are propping up Topeka, so my biggest challenge is to not let negativity win over.

I also don’t want to let anybody change me. There might be different corporations in the future that may want my services, but I never want to become a robot. With all the outside noise, the challenge is me staying who I am. I don’t want to become the status quo.

Somebody once told me ‘If you’re complaining about something and you’re not doing anything about it, then you’re part of the problem.’ So I decided that I needed to do something. It didn’t happen immediately, but it made me stop talking about stuff that I wasn’t going to try to fix. A lot of times we just like hearing ourselves talk. Now I’m at a point in my life where I’m trying to uplift the city however I can and try to continue to support local. If I don’t have any money to give, I give my time or share my insights.”

‘What are you the most excited about?’

“What I’m most excited is how this Pay it Forward came about. Over the last couple of weeks I had somebody pay it forward to me. There was an oversight on some funds that were supposed to go one of the companies I was partnered with on a project and it didn’t get paid. Me and the CEO of this company are talking and trying to figure how to make this thing right, so as that’s happening, I get a call from that CEO a half hour later telling me that an anonymous donor took care of the whole total.

At that point is when I said ‘I’m going to start paying it forward on a weekly basis.’ So now I’ve been getting all this traction from people who want to get involved. And not all of it involves money. For example, we’re going to be going to some of these senior centers and we’re taking hair dressers and barbers and beautify the people and a lot of other things. We want to pay it forward with kindness for a better community tomorrow.”



This is S.J. Hazim, he’s a community leader, activist and connector. This is part one of his story.
-Part of the Kansas Young at Heart series.


“I consider myself a creativity expert. I teach creativity. I believe that in this day and age we don’t tap in to our creativity, or utilize the way that it should be. If we did, we wouldn’t hit a brick wall. Some people play it safe all the time and then wonder why they don’t have the other opportunities that other people have had.

I believe introverts can change the world, but they have to speak from their passion for it to happen. I used to be an introverted person and I had all of these ideas in my head and I would hear people talking and sometimes I had the answer to their questions, but I was too introverted to go share my opinion. Or I thought that people wouldn’t even care about what I had to say.

I believe that there are a lot of people out there that have a lot of the answers we need, but they’re locked up in their introverted selves. We’re waiting on them. Some of those people don’t come to the events and don’t speak out, but some of them are the brightest people in the world. One thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter how good you are, or how nice you are, how giving you are, there are always people who are going to criticize you. You’re never going to satisfy everybody. Just get out there and be involved.

Step out from behind the curtain and be recognized. It’s not about people knowing what you’ve done, but it’s about unleashing your gift. A gift can make room for you. There are no regrets like something you didn’t say or like something you didn’t do. Say it now, do it now. I probably spent too much time in my life not stepping out. I’ve been a helper for a long time behind the scenes for other activities and different community leaders, where I kind of pushed their ideas. So I think this is something I probably should have been doing a long time ago. But at the end of the day, no one can tell your story, but you. I believe everybody has gifts and it’s up to us to use them. I heard somebody say that ‘There is no other place fuller of regrets and wasted ideas than a graveyard.’

A lot of people die with these ideas that were put inside of them to be manifest, but they took those ideas and those gifts to the grave with them. People die with the music still in them. I don’t want to die with the music still in me.”


Deanna (2)

Deanna in her studio
Deanna in her studio

“The original idea started about 10 years ago and it came about when my daughter started writing and I couldn’t find a mentor for her. I was like, ‘If I can’t find one for her, there are probably other kids that don’t have a mentor either’ and I didn’t want her to lose the inspiration to keep writing, to do this long term, because she was really good, so I went ahead and decided to ask for help at Hallmark, where I work.

They helped me figure out how to do it with the help of volunteers. It started with about 12 volunteers from Walmart and about 25 students in KCK. I didn’t have any funding, so Irene Caudillo at El Centro in Kansas City, Kansas gave me space for free.

The Latino Arts Festival was born out of the mentoring program. What I wanted to do was to give the kids more experience on what it’s like to showcase and sell your art. Instead of starting in college or after college, why not start when you’re 15? It is all sponsored because it’s a no cost festival for the attendees and it is no cost for the artist. We give them a booth, table and chairs and all they have to do is come with their creativity. I want them to bring exposure to their art within their own community, so that way, no matter what they do with their life, they’ll always remember where they came from.

There are kids here from all walks of life. A lot of these kids come because they want to be somewhere where they’re seen, somewhere where they feel welcomed. And then when they come in they see that there are other kids like them, they see the diverse culture and they’re like, ‘Wow, this is my place.’ And they just have fun. They don’t have to worry about the cost. They just have to get here and they have an outlet for their creativity.”

— with Latino Foundation for the Arts.



This is Deanna Munoz the founder of the Latino Foundation for the Arts a non-profit that is doing amazing things for children in the community. She was also featured in Season 4 of Queer Eye. This is part one of her story. —



“Being on Queer Eye helped me confront some truths about my identity that I had not confronted before. When I’m with Hispanics I have to be that and when I go to the suburbs, I then have to be something else. What I’ve come to find out is that it’s not just a Mexican-American thing, it’s a cultural around the world thing. All the way from Chile, all the way from Portugal, I’ve gotten people messaging me relating to my story of not fitting in. I just hope that in bringing that to light, people could talk about it more and they could share their stories more and that way people won’t feel so alone. And maybe we can all come together and find ways to help each other.

In the episode I also talked about discrimination I’ve experienced. It’s hard for people to understand what discrimination feels like if they’ve never experienced it. I’ve gotten the whole, ‘Oh, maybe it really wasn’t that bad,’ or ‘Maybe you’re reading too much into it.’ People say that because of everything going on in the news that I may be over thinking it, but the reality is that it’s happening here more now than ever before. I’m hoping that people can see my episode and realize that even though we live in the Midwest, in Kansas City, we’re still not safe. Anything can happen, any day.

And people who dismiss things that happens to us and say, ‘Oh, that’s not really racist,’ what they don’t understand is that the long term effect of those hurtful words can last forever. It makes us more afraid. Anything can happen. They can call the police on us and that can go bad quickly. People just don’t understand that their words can do so much harm.

One voice can cause a lot of trauma. I hope that maybe one day they’ll see that we’re people just trying to live our lives like everybody else.”

Lucas (2)

Lucas Smiling

Lucas Smiling

“In order to fully realize yourself, you need to understand on a fundamental level why you’re here and what makes you tick. And I know that’s a big question to answer, but it’s important. For me, all that time that I spent lost, where I wasn’t functioning in a way that I agreed with, led me to where I am today. I now know the reason why I get up in the morning and do the things that I do. It’s genuinely for other people because I believe that a lot of the people in this planet are in circumstances that are out of their control that could be improved and they deserve better.

That’s where I come from and that’s what I’m doing in this world, that’s my why. And I think that if you can find that piece, whatever it is that you want most in life, you should do it. Find something that you love and that you want to do and make that the reason why you do things. You can have a job and have something you love be your work. I don’t get paid for most of the things that I do that I value the most. I mean, I volunteer for things with the city, I volunteer for things around town and I serve on a non-profit board her in town. Those are the things that I love the most and not a single one of them pays me anything. But that’s the work I’m doing, the rest of it it’s a job.

And I’ve recently been able to work my work into my job through community engagement. The property investment firm is focused on developing the community and the people, as opposed to being just another property investment firm. So I’ve found ways to integrate it, but I only was able to find those ways because I’ve learned why and what I want to do. Find the thing that makes you happy and run full sprint into it.”


Brail (3)

Brail smiling
Brail smiling
“The science behind racial studies initially was all geared towards separating and creating a white elite class of human beings. There’s nothing good about it. Ethnicity, culture, nationality, history, all of that’s great, but there’s nothing good about race. So I started thinking, ‘How do I reconcile these things? How does Christ look at these things? How did he address them?’ Seeing how the Israelites were treated in Egypt for a long time and then they started becoming productive and successful, so this new pharaoh comes up and doesn’t remember what the God of the Israelites did and he’s like, ‘Who are all these people? Who is these niggas? Who are these people that seem to be doing well? They could take us over.’

That fear then takes over and they decided to destroy them and they did almost the exact same thing that we did here in America. This isn’t new. This isn’t a white people problem. This is a sin problem. And so how does Christ address sin? He addresses it pretty sternly, but he addresses it in love. Now I can look at my brother and sister and go, ‘Man, just how I have sin in my heart that I have to fight, you have sin in your heart that you have to fight.’

We’re living in a world of sin and the only way to reach them is with love, not with complacency, not with compromise, but standing on the truth with love and grace. So going into school out there turned me into a racist, but it’s also where I began to understand what it means to be a Christian. I began to understand what it means to work toward reconciliation and started understanding that reconciliation only happens within the confines of relationship. It doesn’t happen outside of that.

The only way to have racial reconciliation is to have a relationship. My entire approach went from, ‘Man I gotta show white people how much they hurting us!’ to ‘Dude, I need to establish relationships with these people.’ I need to be the one that they come to when they go, ‘Is this racist?’ I can’t fire off on them every time and say ‘You crossed the line,’ because if we don’t have any relationship my words fall on deaf ears. Pain is not finite and neither is empathy. You need to build relationships.”


Brail (2)

Brail looking at camera

Brail looking at camera

“I had a really good friend who was kind of an outcast in the music department and he was also an atheist. So we had a lot of deep conversations about Christ and religion and later on about race. He was also a military kid, so he grew up with all sorts of races and ethnicities so he said he didn’t get why black people were complaining about racism. I had to explain it to him in a different way that wasn’t ‘I hate them!’ I had to think about it. I told him, ‘There are two reasons why black people don’t like white people. Number one; white people don’t like black people. You see the way that they treat us. We don’t believe that they like us, so why would we become loving and friends with people who we think hate us? Number two: white people don’t understand why black people don’t like white people.’

And I gave this example, ‘Man, if your brother set my sister on fire, literally on fire, and I ran into you and you’re holding a bucket of water and I said, ”Bro, let me get that water man and throw it on my sister, she’s dying.” And you’re like, ‘I don’t see any fire. How did she catch herself on fire anyway?’ And I’m like, ‘She didn’t catch herself on fire. Your brother did that.’ And you’re like, ‘My brother wouldn’t do that.’ So now I’m looking at you like you’re the enemy too because you’ve enabled for this to happen and I’m in desperate need and you’re just sitting here telling me that there’s nothing wrong. We talked about that and from there we started building a friendship.

Unbeknownst to me, this was also helping me see things from a different perspective because he grew up in a situation where he didn’t see people being set on fire, but I grew up in a situation where I did and I was expecting him to have the same of perspective that I had. He’s white and I’m black and I see white people set black people on fire every day. He must have seen it, but maybe he didn’t, so it’s hard for him to see the flames because he’d never seen the fire. It didn’t make sense to him. So then I’m like ‘What if other people always see other people set others on fire but because it’s the way they grew up, it doesn’t make sense to them either?’ I started to understand why some of my ‘friends’ would act the way that they would. I started taking world history classes at Washburn.

I started learning about the beginning of slavery and how these first slaves who came as indentured servants started outnumbering the powerful white people. So they were scared about losing their power and changed the rules so now if your dad or mom were slaves, you were a slave for life. So how did they justify that? Well, then the Church came in and twisted Scripture to kind of fit that, ‘You know maybe they’re not image bearers.’ So then you get this perverse religion that is taught to people who grew up swimming in racist waters and they don’t understand that this water is toxic and their brothers and sisters are drowning.

So I started gathering this perspective that racist people are sick. They don’t understand to what they’ve been exposed to and it’s become a part of who they are. I also started learning about systemic racism, about the systems of racism that exist today. They just don’t know. My goal became to educate others. I even had to re-educate myself on the factors of systemic racism even though I have the life experiences. I had the experiences reaffirming what I had been learning, but I still started questioning myself because it’s much easier to go ‘Maybe it’s not a thing. Maybe if I work hard enough things could be different.’

Because who wants to spend their days thinking, ‘I’m a victim, I’m a victim, I’m a victim’? No one likes to live like that, so you tell yourself that you’re strong and powerful only to realize that the system is trying to destroy you. That’s a harsh reality to live in, but I’m like, ‘If that’s hard for me to live with it and I can’t ignore it, how hard is it for some of my white brothers and sisters to step over that line and acknowledge the problem and how they benefit from it even though they didn’t start it?’ So now I’m like, ‘Okay, my whole perspective on race started changing and I started understanding how race was invented for racism.’”

Davis (2)

Davis sitting at Capitol steps

Davis sitting at Capitol steps


“In 2014 of all college-aged Kansans, those 18 to 24, only 14 percent had voted in that election. Then I began to look at the census data and realized that this is the biggest part of the population. Kansas is actually a young state, it’s just that young people don’t participate in civic life and so that’s why it doesn’t seem that way. I’ve always been into political engagement and civics so I started brainstorming and then in 2015 I left Planting Peace to start Loud Light kind of in a hope and a prayer. All the data showed that the Kansas that I had fallen in love with, this place of radical history once occupied by suffragettes and abolitionists and all these amazing things that morally helped move the country forward, that Kansas really existed here, it just needed young people to participate to make it happen. So, that’s what Loud Light really is about, it’s about you being a visible vocal force for good in your community.

I still work on college campuses every fall getting hundreds of people registered to vote. That’s still the entire point of all this. I’m also working to build a coalition where we all come together because we’re all so fractured. Women’s rights and racial justice rights people aren’t showing up for each other, who aren’t showing up for the LGTB community, who aren’t showing up for the Latina and Hispanic community. We’re all just not showing up for each other and we’re isolated on our issues, but solidarity is the only way that our nation has ever progressed, by breaking down the boundaries and the divisions of who you are and realizing the broader context of building unity. We need to get to the point where I’m not showing up for you because you have a constituency that I need, I’m showing up for you because you’re my friend and I care about your life and these issues.

If you want people to show up for you and your cause, and your issue and your struggle, you start by showing up for them. You do that by coming to their rally, or a city council meeting, or the community discussions at the library. Go there to show solidarity and lend your strength to their cause and then they will show up for you. That’s how you build power.

When our generation takes over, it’ll be a completely different world. Everyone who registers anyone to vote, know that you’re taking an action of expediting that brighter tomorrow. It’s already there, but people don’t realize it. There’s this revolution all around us that hasn’t been activated because it has been misled to not know its most powerful weapon is the vote.

One of my favorite things is to bring young people to the Capitol for the first time. I show them around and then I remind them that this is our house, this is the people’s house. I try to explain that to everyone I bring and remind them that ‘These are your employees. This is your house. They’re guests here. You pay their salary. They work for you. Do not be scared. They should be scared of you.’ That’s a really empowering thing to remember.”


Davis looking at camera

This is Davis Hammet. When I spoke to him he had been awake for 32 hours straight, working. Davis was the Director of Operations for Planting Peace. He co-created and lived in the Equality House for five years and is the founder of Loud Light, an organization that seeks to empower underrepresented communities in Kansas and promote youth civic participation.

Davis looking at camera


“Being attracted to more than one gender added some difficulties growing up. I didn’t come out to my parents until the week I was driving up here to create the Equality House. I didn’t want my parents to learn that I was bi on CNN, but I had always put it off because I thought, ‘Well, what if I marry a woman? Why would I go through all those difficulties?’ When I was younger, even as early as elementary school, whenever I would get same sex attraction, I would hate myself for it. Around fourth or fifth grade I attempted suicide a couple of times. I now understand that I didn’t want to die. I had these feelings that I was attracted to someone who was the same gender as me and I hated those feelings and I wanted that to die.

I was born in the 1990s, so there weren’t that many icons telling me that this was okay or safe. I’m also the youngest of five kids, almost all boys and male culture is very homophobic and so even growing up around guys everyone was making queer jokes. I don’t hold it against anyone because everyone was doing it. I believe that to some degree everyone is racist, sexist, homophobic, is sick with prejudice and it’s everyone’s struggle to challenge that prejudice every day. Everyone wants to say, ‘Well, I’m not racist, I’m not sexist,’ but the thing is that I was once so homophobic that I tried to kill someone for same sex attraction and that person was me. That was what my suicide attempt was; it was homophobia.

I’m lucky enough to have a really amazing family that when I was beginning to attempt suicide I remembered constantly thinking, ‘I can’t do this to my parents.’ I wanted to kill myself, but it would be so unfair to my parents who had given me so much. There’s no note I could write, there’s nothing I could do. If a child commits suicide, the parents struggle with that forevermore. I kept all that completely hidden, buried in for a long time. First I came out to my mom and she cried, but she hugged me and said, ‘I don’t understand this at all, but I’m going to figure it out and I love you so much.’ The dream situation of coming out to a parent, right? Then I went to tell my dad and he just started laughing and he just goes, ‘Well, you’re such a people person.’ That was his response. It was so unfazed. Some people come out to their parents and they’re like ‘We always knew,’ but my parents were shocked. Still, my mom said she was going to figure it out and my dad just laughed and they still love me and this didn’t change anything. It was such a blessing.

Having to be in the closet about anything is such a burden. Being in the closet about something fundamental to yourself causes so much harm. And then I came out to the whole world. After I lived in the rainbow house for five years there’s no closet big enough in this world that I can go back into at this point.”