Idris Joyce stopped in his tracks in downtown Austin, Texas, to look at a glass building on his way to the South by Southwest music festival in 2016.
His friends ushered him on to get to the music, but Joyce said that moment was the birthplace of Krownless Kings.
Krownless Kings is a nonprofit organization that serves kids and adults, focusing on people of color, creativity, entrepreneurship and business skills, and maintaining healthy lifestyles. The organization is part of the Tacoma School District’s Expanded Learning Opportunity (ELO) program, as well as the Whole Child Initiative, which means artist mentors from Krownless Kings go to schools and spend time with students after classes. Families can sign up for the program for free through ELO.
The organization, which has served about 300 youth and artist mentors, will kick off its first women’s event, “Black, Brown & Beautiful,” Aug. 28 in an attempt to bring businesswomen together.
“I’m at a point in my career where I really want to give back to my community,” Joyce said. “I don’t want to just be the person that’s making moves and progressing … and leaving my whole city behind.”
That glass building was an art school in the Austin area, and Joyce said he thought that was exactly what Tacoma, and the youth in the community, needed. When he came back, Joyce spoke with Roxy Magno, now the program director for the organization, and began to plan.
In 2018, the two launched Krownless Kings, beginning with youth in the Hilltop area as well as schools in the Tacoma Public Schools district. Last month, they celebrated their first year as a nonprofit.
Joyce said he grew up in Hilltop, and his parents encouraged his art, including running his own T-shirt business. He also watched as his parents would welcome just about anyone who needed help into their home.
“My dad, he was like everybody’s dad growing up,” Joyce said. “My mom, she has a heart. She’ll take anybody in. Growing up, I had to sleep on the floor with nine or 10 cousins because everybody’s living with us — that was home.”
Magno said she grew up in a similar way — her parents pushed and supported her creativity. When they died, she said she took what was left to her and put it into Krownless.
She said the organization helps change thinking about what qualifies as art. It isn’t just the classic painting, drawing and dancing, it’s also sports and anything that takes time to harness a skill. Magno said they try to teach the kids in the program that they don’t grow out of being an artist.
“You stay being an artist forever, and if you’re an artist you know how to market, you know how to network, you know how to have communication skills, you know how to hold relationships,” Magno said. “That’s everything what an entrepreneur is, but that’s not always obtainable. That idea is a different cultural thing. Artist, that’s a much more attainable thing.”
Krownless Kings brings in multiple artist mentors during their after-school programs to begin the kids’ networking, and to show them that other people of color can be successful. Magno said Krownless decided to participate in the ELO programs year-round, so they will be at fall, winter, spring and summer sessions. She also said Krownless Kings offers programs through the homeless youth shelter and the day cares where she and Joyce work.
Magno said the organization works to make sure economic status isn’t part of the equation to participate in Krownless, so a lot of the programs are free. They are able to do this through grants, paying out of their own pockets and by asking friends in the community for favors, like venues for events or showcases. The only thing that’s not free is the Krownless Kids Summer Kamp, which will be from 12:30-3:30 p.m. Aug. 19-23. Registration is $30 for the entire week.
Both Magno and Joyce said programs that push kids to pursue art are necessary and that not enough of them exist. That’s why they ask the kids in their organization if they’re being heard and let them direct the programs.
“It’s a must to have programs and outlets for our people,” Joyce said. “To uplift them, to help them with success. Krownless, it’s for everybody, but the communities that need it, that deserve it, that’s where I really want to go.”
Joyce said that although kids are their main focus, the organization also wants to focus on women.
According to the website, the Krownless Kueens program focuses on how to “obtain and maintain healthy lifestyles and bodies while embracing our self worth and power as women.”
Joyce said not only does he want women to unify, but he also wants the program to help empower them.
Magno said they would love to see all ages of women at the event this month, and ask that only those who identify as female attend.
Joyce said success for the nonprofit comes in different forms. For the Kings, it’s creating and building each other up. For the Kueens, to come together and unify, and to network with one another. And for the Kids, Joyce said he’d like to have a school for students to teach them and give them a place to pursue their art.
“Somewhere they can go to and it be definite,” Joyce said. “(So they can say) ‘I can come here every day and do what I love and they can push me toward what I want to do.’”
The free Krownless Kueens businesswomen event will be from 5 - 8 p.m. Aug. 28 at the Tacoma Arts Community Center at 1102 S 11th St.