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Jermaine Reed

Jermaine Reed has spent most of his life involved in public service, through
community advocacy, elected office, and civic entrepreneurship. From the age of 13,
his passion for helping those around him has governed every choice that pushed him to
immerse himself in service to his Kansas City community, and lead him across the
country and even to the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C. Ultimately, that same
determination to make a difference brought him home to the 3rd District, where he
represented for two terms as the youngest person ever elected to the Kansas City,
Missouri, City Council.

 

As a Councilperson, Reed advocated for and oversaw more than $300 million worth
of investment in the 3rd District, including new grocery stores, a new police campus,
increased public transit, and other major infrastructure projects. Citywide, he was
directly involved with developments such as the new downtown convention hotel
and the expanded streetcar line. He served as the selection committee chair
for Kansas City’s new $1.5-billion airport terminal, the largest single infrastructure
project in the city’s history. While on the Council, he also served on the boards of a
number of local institutions and national organizations, from the Mid-America
Regional Council to the Young Elected Officials and the National League of Cities.

Following his time on the City Council, Reed founded KGR Consultants, LLC, through
which he leverages his city-government expertise to help a range of clients develop
government-relations strategies. He also continues to serve in elected office, as a
trustee of Metropolitan Community College and on the national board of the
Association of Community College Trustees.


Above all, Reed values the relationships he works hard to build and maintain, with
colleagues, friends, and most of all family—with whom he gathers for dinners,
holidays, ballgames, and family trips. He also travels frequently for his professional
and public service roles, as well as for his love of live events. Everywhere he goes,
he brings his community with him, proudly representing Kansas City.

From the Beginning

Since his first day—when he arrived at Truman Medical Center on June 13, 1984, three months premature, and struggling to survive—Reed has been a fighter. A “poor kid from the ‘hood,” he made his way up through the Kansas City public school system at the height of bussing and desegregation. From those early days, he remembers aspiring to something greater—and he credits his late grandfather, his first mentor, for ensuring he had a plan.

On weekends when Reed and his siblings would spend the night at their grandparents’ home, he remembers his grandfather—a night-shift custodian who never graduated high school—gathering them around the table and asking them what they wanted to be when they grew up. And he wasn’t satisfied with simple answers. “If I said, ‘I want to be a lawyer’ or ‘I want to be a judge,’ my grandfather would ask, ‘well, what does a judge do, what does a lawyer do—how are you going to get there?’ He wanted us to understand what it meant. If I wanted a career in service, I had to know I was on a path.”


At J.A. Rogers Middle School, Reed found what he considers his calling when he became active in a youth program of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime. There, he met then-Councilman Alvin Brooks, who would become a role model and friend. Brooks—after much pestering—started to allow Reed and other young people to join him on his weekly talk show on KPRT 1590, “Voices From Midtown,” to comment on issues like drugs, violence, education, and politics. In this way, Reed learned that his voice mattered—and that people would listen. During one of his long bus rides to school, Reed wondered why no one had cleaned up all the garbage strewn along the side of the street. So with Ad Hoc, he started a community program that became known as Operation Prospect, galvanizing residents and businesses, organizing church groups, and raising funds to clean up 35 blocks of Prospect Avenue. He was 14 years old. He learned that good ideas plus resources could solve problems, and even “a poor kid from the "hood” could make things happen.


When it came time to move on to high school, Reed could have followed his friends, but instead, he followed his passion to Northeast Senior High, which at the time was a magnet school with a public affairs focus. By the time he graduated, Reed had amassed a list of honors and titles of which the senior class president was perhaps the least remarkable: board member for the National Youth Information Network, member of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Youth Advisory Board, the youngest board member at MOVE UP, a director of Project AIM, a life skills-training nonprofit, and more.


He traveled the country speaking to student groups as part of the inaugural TRUTH Anti-Tobacco Campaign, and wound up on the Rosie O’Donnell Show, as the national spokesperson for National Youth Service Day (he had helped organize the Kansas City service site—the largest in the country, with more than 5,000 participants). The Pitch named him “Best Student Activist” of 2001 (“Ladies and gentleman, allow us to introduce the next governor of Missouri: Jermaine Reed.”), and he was profiled in a special feature in the Kansas City Star. That article quoted Brooks as saying that he could see Reed “on the city council in nine or ten years.”

Meanwhile, Reed’s media career blossomed—he was now heard every night on KPRS 103.3 firing out positive messages to the community and appeals to those in crisis to call in for help (“The number is 816-531-COOL, 816-531-2665—I’m waiting on your call. If you need to call collect, call me!”). For four years, he co-hosted KPRS’s“Generation Rap” every Saturday.


However, he says that the opportunity to have his voice heard would have meant nothing if he weren’t also active in the community. He would later serve as an adult mentor to future Generation Rap staffers—to this day, he maintains relationships with several who have gone on to be successful broadcasters and producers—and insists that “what you say on the air has to match what you do in the community. Your rhetoric has to match your commitment.”


Reed knew what he was talking about much more than others might—it was during his time as a teenager that his single mother temporarily became unable to sustain a home for him and his four brothers. They went to live with extended family members while their mother worked her way back to independence. She was then able to find shelter for the family through Community LINC, a nonprofit agency that provides housing programs and support services. (In large part because the organization was there for him at that critical time, Reed now financially supports Community LINC every year as his “charity of choice.”)


Reed credits his family and Community LINC for not allowing the situation to stop him—they instilled in him that homelessness isn’t a label, but merely an experience to work through. And he did—Reed may have technically been homeless, but he was still hosting his own radio show, interviewing politicians, business leaders, and local celebrities. The ordeal only solidified the ideal he had been raised with: That you can always help people less fortunate—even though you might be less fortunate yourself.
 

After graduating from Northeast—where he delivered the commencement address—Reed attended the University of Missouri in Columbia, though he says he might not have been able to get there without the support of David Ross, then a vice president at Bank of America, another mentor who “saw something in me that I hadn’t seen in myself.” In college, he stayed active in the community through Ad Hoc and frequent trips back to Kansas City. For three years, Reed served on Missouri Governor Bob Holden’s Youth Cabinet.


As a first-generation college student, Reed says he made the most of it, enjoying his independence and new social opportunities, while never forgetting that “I was there for a purpose,” which included graduating on time and moving onto the next stage of his life plan. His years in Columbia included long stretches at the library, as well as time devoted to work/study and extra hours building study skills at the Student Success Center. He was motivated to reward the faith that others had shown in him—and that he had in himself. (He also proved dead wrong the high-school counselor who thought he wouldn’t succeed at a four-year institution.) With his degree in political science, he headed to Washington, D.C., where the only person he knew was Congressman Emanuel Cleaver—another mentor—for whom Reed had interned the summer before. He quickly found work with the Resource Development Office at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (he had completed a Political Education and Leadership “Boot Camp” through the CBC Institute during college) and then with the D.C. government, as a financial program manager. Always connected to home, he assisted on Brooks’ 2007 mayoral bid and also campaigned for Congressman Cleaver and Barack Obama, an adventure that took him to the Democratic National Convention in Denver, to Chicago’s Grant Park on Election Night, and back to D.C. for the Presidential Inauguration—from which he contributed more live broadcasts on 103.3 KPRS.
 

Life in D.C. was comfortable, but his convictions demanded more, and he was called home by the needs of his family—particularly his younger brothers who were graduating high school—and the needs of his community, which he has tried to help meet through his role as Community Ombudsman for Cleaver’s Green Impact Zone, focusing Federal stimulus funds toward the revitalization of Kansas City’s urban core.


Upon his return to Kansas City, Reed served with Ad Hoc on its Governing Board of Directors and a mentor in the same youth program that first set him on his path. He also served as a member of the National Forum for Black Public Administrators and the Missouri Association for Blacks in Higher Education, and an advisor to the American Legion Boys State of Missouri.


However, even at the age of 25, he saw serving on the city council as the next step. He believed that the citizens of the 3rd District were not being well represented in City Hall—their voices were not being heard, and resources were not finding a way back east of Troost to the urban core that so desperately needed rebuilding. “We’ve been overlooked for far too long,” Reed said, in announcing his candidacy for City Council, a campaign to “Renew, Engage, and Empower our District.”

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From th Beginning
Business Meeting

City Council

On the eve of that first election, Reed visited his grandfather, now in poor health, to share the excitement and the pride that the family name was going to be on the ballot. Then he asked—jokingly, he thought—if his grandfather was going to vote for him.

“He said, ‘Sit down,’” Reed remembers. “And then he said, ‘No—I’m not going to vote
for you. Because you never asked for my vote.’” That story would become the kicker to Reed’s future stump speeches—about the
importance of earning every vote and not taking any vote for granted. (With a little persuading, Reed was able to win the vote of his
 grandfather, who passed away a couple of years later.)

When the final results were tallied on March 22, 2011, Jermaine Reed, then 26, became the youngest City Councilmember-elect in Kansas City history. The 10-year prediction that Alvin Brooks had made to the Kansas City Star a decade earlier had proven remarkably precise.

Reed’s youthfulness did not fit the profile of the stereotypical councilperson at the time: older, possibly retired, serving on the council—officially a part-time job—after a career in another field. Reed was just starting out, achieving what he called “a
career highlight” at the very beginning of his career. Youth would also prove to be a barrier to be overcome—because others made it so. Reed recalls how he was treated when he arrived at his first meeting of the TIF (Tax Increment Financing) Commission to advocate for a new grocery store he wanted to bring to 39th Street and Prospect Avenue. “The chair at the time was trying to figure out who I was and said something like, ‘I have socks older than you,’” Reed relates. “And I responded with something along the lines of, ‘Well, you should probably go purchase new socks, but I’m not here to talk about your old wardrobe. I am here to discuss this project on behalf of my community.’

“I realized, being a young councilmember, I would have to command—and in a lot of ways, demand—respect for what I was bringing to the table and for people to take my issues seriously.” A few months later, Reed would stand side by side with that same TIF commissioner at a press conference announcing the new Aldi’s grocery store on Prospect—a $ 4.5 million investment in the 3rd District. When a reporter asked how long construction would take, Reed proudly answered, “Eight or nine months.” It would take well over a year.

 

“I learned on the job—I had to be prepared and knowledgeable to see my plans to fruition. I also learned that while I could take credit for leadership, you can’t do anything without collaboration. Being on the City Council only gives you one vote. You’ve got to be able to bring people together.” That was especially true when progress demanded uncomfortable decisions. Reed’s next big project was overseeing the development of the new Leon Mercer Jordan East Patrol Division Station and Crime Lab at 27 th and Prospect. It would represent $74 million of investment in the district—one of the largest infrastructure projects in the city at the time—including nearly $24 million of contracts for minority-owned firms. But construction required uprooting about 60 residents in a four-block area.
There was bad press. Some of those constituents even launched a campaign to recall Reed from office. (It failed.)


Reed says he found strength and support from the national networks of other young, like-minded public officeholders, such as Young Elected Officials. In his first month on the job, he joined a YEO delegation to the White House, where the group met President Obama, whose message was one of admiration, not derision. “It was a surreal moment,” Reed says. “Obama grabbed the mic, and said, ‘I know who’s in the house—some young electeds! I used to be young, too. You guys make
stuff happen. You’re the next generation.’” As big a role as City Councilmember was, it was a part-time job. Reed served beyond the council, as well, including as a board member and then interim director of AdHoc Group Against Crime. At the same time, in 2013, he started working towards his Executive Master of Public Administration at UMKC—an advanced degree was another longtime goal. In addition to professional tools that he was able to apply right away to his work on the Council, the master's program also offered a “safe place” to grow and learn, away from city issues and concerned constituents. Meaningfully, Reed made his first trip to Africa, traveling with his cohort to Capetown, South Africa. In 2015, Reed won reelection with more than 70 percent of the vote. In his second
term, he continued to advocate for new investment in the 3rd District, such as the plan for the 18th and Vine Historic District, the MLB Urban Youth Academy, and Prospect Max—a $54-million initiative to line Prospect Avenue with 48 new bus stops and platforms. Reed also led collaboratively to expand the street car line and bring the new Loews Kansas City Hotel to downtown.

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