By Imagene Harris
Another Kansas Day in the books! Another Kansas Dirt Cake whipped up – gummy worms on top of course – and eaten in the Harris household. I don’t remember when I was introduced to Kansas Dirt Cake but I do remember that I knew it was delicious and that it was for me. The state’s 162nd birthday, or celebration of statehood, stayed with me longer than usual this year. I’m not sure if it was seeing my own kindergartener bring home Kansas activities in his backpack or if I was still in a reflective mood as we kick off another calendar year.
Over time, I have started associating Kansas Day with another prime memory. Not because it happened on January 29th, but because it also represents a celebration of Kansas: a personal moment of commitment to my lifelong home.
In 1995 my older sister and I qualified for the National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA) World Championship. We packed up our old Suburban, loaded our grade horse and pony into our glamorized stock trailer and made the trip from Ottawa, Kansas to Augusta, Georgia. To top it off, mom made us new shirts for the special occasion. These weren’t just any western shirts. Afterall, this was our time to shine in front of America. This was our time to show who we were and where we were from, and we were from Kansas. (Also, it was the 90s so obviously glitter puffy paint was involved.) Yellow sunflowers were ironed onto dress shirts from the area hobby store and in case anyone missed the reference, “Kansas” was highlighted down one sleeve. I’d wear it today if I could.
There’s something interesting about not having your own name on your shirt, to represent someone or something else. In this instance, it felt good. I was proud. I wanted people to see that Kansans could show up at championships, too. I wasn’t just a Kansan, I realized. I was a proud Kansan. Much like my pony, my home may not be perfect, but she’s mine. I would love her, and I would care for her. From that moment forward I wanted to share with everyone about my state (and pony). They needed to know what she was capable of, too.
This particular memory often creeps up on me when I have opportunities to share with national organizations and state peers about NetWork Kansas. The allocation of the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) funds to states, territories, and tribes has been one of my most recent reasons to engage with national peers. Kansas was one of the first five states to receive their SSBCI allocation and that privilege, in my opinion, is because of how well we performed the first time SSBCI launched in 2010 and our established network of small business partners across the state. So, when I am able to share about how our own state has built our loan and equity SSBCI programs this time around, each referred to locally as GROWKS, it feels like that moment in my sunflower shirt on my pony. It’s not just about me. It’s about Kansas! It’s about our partners in our 69 Entrepreneurship (E-) Communities across the state serving as critical leaders and boots-on-the-ground for building our entrepreneurial ecosystem. It’s our regional loan packagers, such as certified development companies (CDCs) who are also identifying small businesses who can benefit from these programs. It’s continued learning about marginalized communities and working to bring greater equity across our funding programs. It’s an entire network of Kansas organizations seeking out information to maximize the benefits they can bring to their small businesses. It’s about community. To have the opportunity to share that story before others feels like parading out on a priceless shaggy pony in a homemade shiny sunflower shirt and proudly saying, “This is Kansas. This is what we can do here!”
I’d love to parallel a barrel racing victory with our unique funding model here in Kansas, but truth be told I don’t really remember my performance, just that I had the opportunity to go. I may even have hit a barrel. For those unfamiliar with the sport, hitting a barrel will either add 5 seconds to your time or disqualify you from the race. It was not the winning the race that mattered but the opportunity to be part of a greater community and celebrate my own at the same time.
When I talk about NetWork Kansas I often do feel like a winner. Our communities and partners are amazing! I am now realizing, maybe that pride is founded not just in what we have done or are doing, but knowing behind the scenes other Kansans are pushing themselves and their communities to always be iterating and building on what was there before, secure in the optimism about we are capable of doing in the future.
A scoop of dirt cake that can get the mind working and reflecting like this is pretty special. It’s mighty delicious, worms and all.