Kamryn and five of her friends, who live in the same neighborhood and have been isolating during the novel coronavirus pandemic in a four-family bubble, sprang into action.
With Kamryn at the helm, the children — ages 5 to 12 — started making colorful string bracelets to sell, with all proceeds going toward helping Minneapolis communities in need.
They decided to call the initiative Kamryn & Friends: Bracelets for Unity and Justice.
The kids first set up a tent and table on May 30 on Kamryn’s front lawn. From the moment the large and colorful sign was displayed, neighbors started stopping by.
The bracelets are priced between $1 and $5, depending on the complexity of the pattern and the type of string used. Bracelet options include simple shades and color combinations, as well as neon and glow-in-the-dark varieties.
So far, most passersby have left more than the asking price.
“People are giving $10, $20, $50,” said Kamryn’s father. “One man pulled up out of nowhere and dropped off a $100 bill for one bracelet. A few people have done that.”
Still, Johnson never imagined that his daughter would collect more than a few hundred dollars.
“We assumed she was only going to sell a handful of bracelets, at most, and I would match whatever amount she made,” he said.
But when Johnson — who is a sports analyst at a local radio station — mentioned his daughter’s initiative on the air, word of Kamryn’s bracelets spread rapidly.
Donations started flooding in from people within the Twin Cities and from all over the country. Local news media covered the story.
While half of the proceeds have been collected in person on the family’s front lawn, many contributions have been made online through Venmo and GoFundMe. Bracelets are mailed to anyone who provides an address.
In less than one week, Kamryn and her friends have raised about $40,000.
The Johnson family is allocating the proceeds to various causes in the community. The family has delivered money, as well as food and supplies, to several local food drives. But the main goal is to use the funds to bolster black businesses affected by the pandemic and the protests.
“We really want to focus on black-owned businesses, particularly those that have been denied insurance claims for riot damage,” Johnson said.
Multiple members of the sports community have contributed to the cause.
“It was just a spider web of people hearing about the story and sharing it on social media,” Johnson said. “We’ve had a lot of athletes and coaches donate.”
One big donor is Anthony “Spice” Adams, a former player for the San Francisco 49ers and the Chicago Bears. He and Johnson grew up together in Detroit and are longtime friends.
“It’s amazing for Kam to see that she can impact the world just by doing something from her lawn in Minnesota,” Adams said.
Other donors from the sports world include Chad Greenway, a former linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings, and Harrison Smith, a current Vikings player who visited Kamryn and her friends in person to pick up his purple-and-yellow bracelet — to match his team’s colors.
“Kam was smiling from ear to ear when he showed up,” Johnson said.
Joan Gabel, the president of the University of Minnesota, donated, too.
“Nothing can make you feel more optimistic for the future than a child who knows she can make a difference,” Gabel said. “And she can, so I wanted to help her.”
Local businesses and residents also are supporting the initiative.
Nick Rancone, the co-owner of a small restaurant group, bought 15 bracelets for his staff to wear around Minneapolis.
“Kamryn’s bracelets are a perfect example for anyone who is questioning their ability to make change happen,” Rancone said. “This 9-year-old is an inspiration.”
Emily Rooney, a Minneapolis resident, drove half an hour to visit Kamryn’s bracelet stand after reading about it on social media.
“To see a 9-year-old taking action is just so inspiring,” Rooney said. “I was willing to drive across the cities to support her.”
Kamryn and her friends, who taught themselves to make the colorful creations during the stay-at-home period, have been working hard to keep up with the demand. They even have blisters on their fingers to show for it.
Other neighbors started pitching in and making bracelets to lighten the load.
“It’s become bigger than just Kamryn, it’s the whole neighborhood and community,” Johnson said. “Kamryn is leading the charge, and we are all right behind her.”
Kamryn’s mother, Shani Johnson, 39, said this experience has been the source of light she needed right now.
“We spent many days grieving and processing after George Floyd’s death and everything that happened here in our city, so it’s just been a huge encouragement and joy to see the good out there,” she said.
Kamryn and her friends are planning to continue making bracelets for as long as people are willing to buy them.
“We want this initiative to stay,” Johnson said. “This is not just a one-week thing.”
Not only have Kamryn’s bracelets raised more money than they imagined possible, but the Johnsons said it has also prompted important discussions in their neighborhood.
“The conversations that we’re having with our neighbors on racism and injustice while we’re out here is uniting us in a way that’s really unique,” Shani Johnson said. “Beyond the money that we are using to help others, I am very encouraged by how it has brought our community and neighborhood together at a time of great division.”
Ron Johnson said that if his 9-year-old daughter can make a difference, anyone can.
“Every day you are on this earth, it is your job to pass on as much love and empathy as you can,” he said. “Our daughter has reminded us of that.”
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