Spencer Hardwick, 27

“As a teacher, I always tried to instill in my students that they should shoot for the moon and try to be the best at whatever they do. And for many of us, it can start right here in Kansas City.”

In their own words

I’m a Kansas City native, educator, and community synergist. I recently left the classroom at the Ewing Marion Kauffman School to become a managing director and Chief of Staff at Teach for America – Kansas City, a nonprofit that recruits, trains and develops young and talented teachers from across the country. As someone who grew up in KC public schools, I see education as a driving tool to address some of our community’s largest problems.

Prior to teaching in Kansas City, I was an institutional sales analyst at Goldman Sachs in New York City. This Wall Street experience taught me a great deal, not only about how markets work but also the critical components that make a city attractive to young people. I learned that much of what we crave in Kansas City in terms of “greener pastures” can be found right here in our city limits.

To this end, I founded the Wire KC – an email network for young black professionals to stay connected and up to date on all things going on around the city. The network is designed to keep locals abreast of what’s new while allowing transplants to quickly assimilate in a new city through pointing out the best barbershops, brunch spots, and places to go on the weekends. As a millennial with the good fortune to have lived in multiple U.S cities, I recognize the value of harnessing technology to address issues for today’s increasingly mobile workforce. It is equally important to create spaces that highlight our city’s rich diversity along with avenues to connect across professional, racial, and neighborhood lines.

Before Goldman, I was a Teach For America corps member in Dallas where I served as a founding teacher at a charter school in Irving, TX. Teaching in a predominantly Hispanic school greatly shaped my views on education as a powerful lever for change and also the importance of learning about the myriad of diverse perspectives our country has to offer. My Dallas students remain some of the most treasured people in my life because of all that they taught me.

In my spare time I like to DJ, serve as a mentor for Hot 103 Jamz’ teen radio talk show Generation Rap, and participate in ministry at my lifelong church, St. James United Methodist. I am also a devout KC sports fan, social media maven, and political junkie.

This summer I am finishing up my masters in Educational Leadership at the University of Missouri – Columbia. I also graduated with honors from Harvard in 2011 with a bachelors in Government and a citation in French.

KC story

My Kansas City story is my life story. I was born in the heart of the city at the (old) Menorah Hospital and lived most of my childhood zigzagging between the city’s mosaic of neighborhoods: baseball games at 3 & 2 Ballpark in South KC, haircuts on Paseo Blvd, shopping at Bannister Mall, and grocery runs in Brookside. I learned at an early age how to navigate the city’s many pockets and more importantly, how we were all connected through a common set of values, love for our sports teams, and sense of family. My outlook is shaped by the fact that I grew up in the 90s. At the time, downtown left much to be desired. The Royals were struggling. The perception was there wasn’t a lot “to do” in KC. From middle school to high school, friends swore up and down they would leave this place the first chance they got. While I had dreams of living in and experiencing other cities, it always bothered me that locals seemed to collectively talk about our city as if it wasn’t good enough, even for its own folks. I would look on TV and go on trips where my out-of-town cousins and others would celebrate where they were from with pride. It was a badge of honor to be from Chicago, LA, or New York. But whatever reason, at times it felt like we didn’t measure up as Kansas Citians.

When I attended college on the east coast, I always made it a point to let people know where I was from and that it was a major source of pride for me. I rocked our city’s laid-back vibe, Midwestern values, and charming hospitality into a demeanor that was aimed to shift people’s perception from KC being “flyover country”. When I’d see fellow Kansas Citians, we’d always spend a bulk of the conversation talking about home and more importantly, despite the many wonderful things about larger cities, that there was just no place like it. In these conversations I’d always tried to persuade my contemporaries that we needed to move back home. It was part of our responsibility to come back and make a difference by helping to grow our city.

During this time, I tracked the KC Star, social media, and conversations with family to watch Kansas City’s transformation into what it is today: a lively scene for young people with great options on weekends, a career destination, a place where movers and shakers can be supported, energized, and most importantly have the ability to make an impact. So, given the choice between staying in New York or moving to KC, it was no brainer decision to come home and continue building my professional career on fertile ground.  

 

A day in the life

I just took on a new job so I’m still figuring out what that means in terms of a daily rhythm. But what I love is that it gives me a perfect platform to interact with different layers of KC’s educational landscape, meaning that my days will look differently based on the time of year. If I had to project what a composite day would look like however, I’d say that it would start in the morning with coffee or breakfast with a key stakeholder in the community on education, followed up by meetings in the Teach For America office in the Crossroads District. Mid-day, I’d break for lunch with co-workers with flavorful options on Southwest Boulevard or newer venues like the Jacobson, Rockhill Grille, or the P & L District. By the afternoon, I would be out in the community collaborating with different community partners, visiting classrooms, or giving presentations on urban education in Kansas City. The early evening could range from going to the gym to checking out a Royals or Sporting game to visiting my grandparents for dinner. The only exception is usually Friday nights, where I’ll DJ a wedding, house party or club depending on the time of the year.

 

Legacy

Ultimately, I’d like to be one of many examples for our youth of what’s possible in Kansas City. As a teacher, I always tried to instill in my students that they should shoot for the moon and try to be the best at whatever they do. Too often, we tend to limit ourselves mentally in terms of what we think we can accomplish. Through my career I want to consistently demonstrate that success is more about mindset than anything else. It’s possible to be a teacher and be very successful in our community. It’s possible to be perceived as world class in a city like Kansas City. It’s possible for you to be the greatest at whatever it is you do. But it starts in your head. And for many of us, it can start right here in Kansas City.

 

Whoa

I’m fluent in French as result of attending the first charter school in Missouri, Academie Lafayette, which has a full-immersion French language K-8 curriculum.    Also, I developed a DJ business in college and have performed for the past seven years as “DJ Esquire” at clubs and private venues in Boston, Dallas, New York, and KC.

 

Pro tip

I would tell them to always be mindful and proud of where they come from. The chip on our shoulder we collectively have about Kansas City starts at the lunch table, playground, and classroom – how we talk about it. Challenge people who say negative things about our home and realize that you are a part of what really makes this city special. That mindset goes not only for your city, but for your personal aspirations as well. Success starts with how you think about yourself, and where you come from. Protect and celebrate those parts of your identity and the world will open up to you in a way that it can’t for haters.