Students at Kingsway Preparatory School, 2010 Dewey Ave., spent part of the year in outdoor classrooms then returned to in-person learning. Photo from Kingsway Preparatory School

Kingsway Preparatory School selected by the Boosting Black Business Facebook Group

An Evanston Facebook group launched to help raise money for local Black-owned businesses shifted its focus this month to raise money and awareness for African-American education.

Evanston born-and-raised founder Tosha Wilson started the Boosting Black Business page in July of 2020 when she and a cousin, Jacqui White, were denied a business loan for their Laundry Café project. After facing this roadblock in starting her own business, Ms. Wilson felt she could not be alone in this process. The Laundry Café project has new life and a potential new home in south Evanston, along with several other businesses supported by Boosting Black Business.

“I was thinking, ‘There must be other people out here who work hard, who have decent credit–the whole nine.’ Ms. Wilson said. They’re doing the right thing but for some reason the red tape prevents them from getting what they need.”

It was not long before the Evanston community and others took an interest in Ms. Wilson’s idea and the page’s activity began to skyrocket, with more than 3,000 people joining the group. The page works to highlight businesses’ individual crowdfunding efforts. Ms. Wilson identifies a worthy business and uses her platform to boost them financially and give them the motivation to succeed. For example, Awe-Sauce hot sauces raised more than $9,000 on GoFundMe with the help of the Boosting Black Business Facebook page.

Ms. Wilson has helped raise awareness for various Black-owned businesses and causes throughout the Chicago area to crowdsource more than $80,000 collectively. She also believes the Black Lives Matter movement played a role in fueling her page’s growth.

“I think at the time of social unrest and people kind of waking up to inequities, all at the same time, then you had COVID – it just became like, ‘What are we doing here?’” Ms. Wilson said. But I think it was a moment where everyone had time to pay attention.”

Since late January, Ms. Wilson’s Facebook group shifted its focus to the Kingsway Preparatory School in the Fifth Ward.

Kingsway Preparatory School opened its doors in the Weissbourd-Holmes Family Focus building, 2010 Dewey Ave., in 2015 as a faith-based elementary school for African-American children. The school’s goals encompass both high student achievement as well as becoming a productive member of the community.

“We are here basically trying to give voice and to provide that space for students who are typically underrepresented students, and providing that foundation for them in the academic setting,” Kingsway Principal Tamara Stewart-Hadaway said.

Kingsway opened specifically to address the fact that the Fifth Ward is one of only two wards in Evanston lacking a public elementary school. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit early last spring, the school needed to get creative about its next steps.

“In the spring when everyone had to shut down, we considered the safest way to come together, because we were already thinking about how this was going to impact our students…” Ms. Stewart-Hadaway said. “So, we really tried to figure out the best way, the safest way, and outdoors and holding courses outdoors made the most sense.”

Since the move outdoors, Kingsway has provided students and families with the option of in-person learning. In the fall, Ms. Stewart-Hadaway said the school offered all its courses outdoors, and said she even saw a difference in her students’ demeanor.

“It’s so exciting to be able to actually not just see the changes in our environment from the window, cause we always did that,” Ms. Stewart-Hadaway said. “The way we have done school is absolutely going to change beyond just this year and beyond being a reaction to COVID.”

As Ms. Stewart-Hadaway and Kingsway staff continued to make consistent efforts toward providing their students with the best possible education throughout the pandemic, few Evanstonians noticed this work was being done in the Fifth Ward, until the Pre-K-fifth grade school caught the attention of Ms. Wilson.

“I thought, ‘Education is business.’ And there’s a lot of back and forth talk about Black kids learning, you know, and what they need to learn,” Ms. Wilson said. “Kingsway is definitely giving everyone – you know all these parents – what the District is fighting about. If these kids grow, learn and become bright, they take over the world next. And they’re the next business owners; they’re the next teachers and doctors.”

Ms. Wilson and Ms. Stewart-Hadaway hope that the money raised will address inequities in both the underserved Fifth Ward as well as in African-American education in the area. According to their website, a year’s worth of tuition at Kingsway costs $8,500. With the money raised, Ms. Wilson says she hopes more students will be able to receive a Kingsway education. Ms. Stewart-Hadaway also has some specific ideas on how the funding will benefit current and future students.

“One of the things we want to do is we want to be able to focus more on opportunity gaps. And that will help in stemming the achievement gap,” Ms. Stewart-Hadaway said. “We want to be able to do more with our curriculum to allow for more experiences for our students.”

Moving forward, Ms. Wilson says that the Boosting Black Business Facebook group will be shifting back to its business-centric focus at the end of this month. However, she hopes that her page’s fundraising will have made a lasting impact for Ms. Stewart-Hadaway once March rolls around. “Whatever she needs, that place deserves it,” Ms. Wilson said.

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