KANSAS CITY, Mo. — To get to the city where dreams are made, you’ve got to take a leap of faith.
That’s what Kevin Willmott, Dewain Whitmore Junior, and Titus Johnson did. They have an Academy Award and two Grammys between them, and they’re all from the Kansas City area.
“The Next Paige,” a local talent management agency at East 61st and Troost, held a gala Saturday night to raise money for the city’s youth.
Their goal is to raise $50,000 to provide scholarships and other things to underserved populations in order to help them follow their dreams and leave behind a legacy. “The Next Paige” also honored five area creatives at the gala, with the hope that they will inspire and encourage the younger generation to follow their dreams.
Kevin Willmott teaches Film and Media Studies at the University of Kansas. He’s also an Academy Award winner for the 2018 film BlacKkKlansman, which saw him take home the Oscar for ‘Best Adapted Screenplay.’ The Universal Pictures film stars Adam Driver and John David Washington, and it tells the story of Ron Stallworth, the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department who sets out on a mission to infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan.
Willmott’s other work, Da5Bloods from 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks saw him work with icons like director Spike Lee and the late Chadwick Boseman. “I tell my students, ‘Write what you believe in.’ It kind of has to come from the things you believe: justice, fairness, equality, peace and love,” Willmott said.
From Junction City, Kansas, he worked hard and stuck with his passion, which led to getting his Master’s Degree in Dramatic Writing from New York University, Tisch School of the Arts, before writing and directing his own projects.
“I’m a small-town Kansas, guy. Twenty-thousand people [in Junction City]. My father went to the 6th grade. My mother went to the 10th grade. We didn’t have a car growing up. I have an Academy Award. So, you know, it can happen to you too if you don’t give up.”
In the music world, Dewain Whitmore Junior, a Hickman-Mills grad, has worked with artists like Chris Brown, Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas and others, spanning nearly every genre. He moved to Los Angeles in 2010, not knowing anyone. A year later, he received his first Grammy for his work on Chris Brown’s album: F.A.M.E.
“They [Chris Brown and Kelly Clarkson] just believed in what I did. I went out there with nothing and just found my way, and those people just really kind of took to me, and one thing led to another and another.”
He and fellow Grammy nominee Titus Johnson, a Lincoln Prep graduate, honed their musical skills by investing in their community right here in Kansas City.
“Before I left home,” said Johnson, “I was able to play not only in church, but I could go to 18th and Vine and do some gigs and sit in in some jam sessions and really learn from some of the greats around our city.”
All three men said they were honored to be recognized by “The Next Paige,” and can’t wait to share their experience and expertise with the next generation of composers, filmmakers and creatives.
“Keep at it. Keep going and going because you hear people say all the time, ‘The skies the limit.’ No, you can go beyond that, you know what I mean? But it starts with pouring into yourself and investing in yourself and continuing to fine-tune your craft,” Whitmore Junior added.
Two other local creatives were honored at Saturday night’s gala. They include local fashion designer, Pamela Lucas, who owns the House of Pamela Renee in the River Market, and visual artist Warren Harvey, who has his own art gallery in the city.
To learn more about “The Next Paige,” or to get involved in upcoming workshops, you can click here.