Kendal West, the founder of The African American Club, at the organization's inaugural gala Saturday night at The Apis Hotel & Restaurant.
PHOTO: DANIEL GAITAN

Inaugural African American Club gala deemed a success

Newly formed organization founded by Kendal West
Daniel Gaitan

By Daniel GaitanKENOSHA.COM

Gaitan is a proud Kenosha native who has covered his local community for much of his professional career. The DePaul University graduate served previously as an award-winning writer for the Kenosha News.

Nearly 100 area residents turned out for the high-energy inaugural African American Club gala Saturday night.

The black tie event was held on the rooftop of The Apis Hotel & Restaurant, 614 56th St.

The newly formed organization aims to be a social club similar to the Swedish-Amercian Club and Italian-American Club in Kenosha. It will also serve as a support network for Black residents and foster business development for this community. 

“During a time of racial unrest and cultural divisiveness, it is more important than ever to have a place to go to feel connected. Connected to one another, to a culture, an identity and to foster a sense of community,” the organization’s mission statement reads. “Unfortunately, there are few places for African Americans to do this in Kenosha, (Wis.).”

AAC founder Kendal West, 34, said he’s aiming to change that. 

“The African American Club has been in my brain for eight years,” West said Saturday night. “I’ve been fortunate to serve the city as a police officer and as a civilian. I’ve got to see the different vantage points of different people.”

West grew up on the city’s south side. He wants the organization to help Black residents reach their full potential and inspire young people. 

The Rev. Lawrence Kirby, pastor of The Acts Church of Kenosha, leads the gathering in a prayer before dinner.

“You know how ambitious I want to be? Black Wall Street,” he said, referring to Greenwood, Tulsa, Okla. About 100 years ago, Greenwood was one of the most affluent majority African American communities in the nation.  

“The numbers are there, the statistics are there,” he said. “Kenosha’s population mirrors that of that same situation. The goal is for me to (foster) that here. Why can’t Kenosha be the place where the African American community is the No. 1 most affluent African American community in the United States? Why not? We are our own solution.”

The U.S. recently marked the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre. Between May 31 and June 1, 1921, mobs of white residents attacked  Black residents, killed many and burned businesses in the area’s Greenwood District to dust. 

The local gala was attended by community activists, area entrepreneurs and locally elected politicians, among many others. 

Alvin D. Owens, community engagement director for the club, told the crowd change is coming. He said all are welcome here.

“This is just the beginning,” he said. “You don’t understand what’s about to happen to Kenosha. … It is the start of something outstanding, something beautiful. We are making history.”

Chauntel McKenzie, a national motivational speaker, served as the celebrity emcee. She’s from Milwaukee. 

Chauntel McKenzie, a national motivational speaker, served as the celebrity emcee.

“When my husband and I pulled up, I said ‘Kenosha put it on!’ Black excellence is in the house, diversity is in the house, support is in the house, positivity is in the house. Give yourselves a round of applause,” she told the crowd.  

“I think it’s really spectacular what West and the team are endeavoring to do. He really has associated this with Black Wall Street in Tulsa. If you know anything about the history of Black Wall Street it was a community built by African Americans. At the time it was the most affluent and fiscally progressive African American community in the country. Unfortunately, it was destroyed due to racism.” 

The Rev. Lawrence Kirby, pastor of The Acts Church of Kenosha, opened the dinner with a prayer. 

“God, we ask you to use us to change this city,” he said. “We pray that you would use us and that we would lift up this community. … Lead us tonight as we carry on the fight of our forefathers and ancestors. God, we give you glory and we honor you. We thank you. Let it be.”

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