“Kindness starts here.”
This is more than a tagline for the We Speak Foundation; it is its foundation.
Whether it’s paying for a person’s meal, finding a hotel room for a woman escaping domestic violence or picking up trash and debris in a neighbor’s yard following the tornado that hit Jefferson City, We Speak Foundation is a Christ-centered, grassroots organization based on the needs of individuals and families that cannot meet day-to-day challenges. Through donations they provide a variety of free services and
acts of kindness in hopes to create a firm foundation for all people.
“If we take the initiative to volunteer or say I will help you, someone will pass that along. If we randomly pay a light bill or randomly bring groceries to someone’s door, they may not know why we are doing this. But we get to say, this is what our organization is and we don’t want anything in return,” said We Speak Foundation founder Kyerra Johnson-Massey. “If you feel free to donate, you can but if not, it is OK. That is where we are coming from and want to continue to grow, so people can pass around kindness.”
Kyerra started the We Speak Foundation as a way to do motivational speaking about issues she had seen firsthand – domestic violence, mental health and suicide.
Growing up in East St. Louis, Illinois, Kyerra’s family life seemed ideal compared to other families in her community. Her grandmother, a retired teacher, lived with Kyerra, her half brother Olin McDonald, her mother and her stepfather. Her stepfather was a philosophy and African American studies professor and published author, and her mother was studying to become a doctor, finishing her master’s degree in
“They were two upstanding citizens who had collegiate backgrounds and pursuing successful careers. Being in a nuclear household and having a grandmother there, most would not see a tragedy like this to happen,” Kyerra said.
A growing resentment between her stepfather and mother is what led to that tragedy witnessed by 8-year-old Kyerra, 5-year-old Olin and her grandmother. Kyerra said her 29-year-old stepfather was laid off from his job, which she said created a level of insecurity. Her 26-year-old mother was realizing what she could do with her career and life, resulting in arguments between the couple.
“That was a huge strain in their relationship. Her journals shared different types of abuse she was going through, including physical abuse, but no one around her saw it or knew about it outside from arguments,” Kyerra said, noting the couple had planned to separate.
On Dec. 21, 1998, Kyerra’s mother came home and noticed her stepfather giving her a look. She had asked what was wrong, but her mother quickly told Kyerra not to look at her dad that way. The two adults went upstairs and Kyerra, her brother, grandmother and great-grandmother heard lots of irregular movement upstairs. They went to check and found her stepfather throttling her mother in a chokehold. Her grandmother told him to let her loose and told them to come downstairs. As she got the children back downstairs, they all heard a gunshot, Kyerra said. They met Kyerra’s mother trying to escape down the stairs when her stepfather grabbed hold of her leather jacket, Kyerra recalled. She was able to make her way through the hallway to the living room door where Kyerra was standing, apologizing and crying while her stepfather reloaded his gun. Kyerra had called the police and took Olin to the basement. Before they could arrive, he dragged her mother to the bathroom and shot her again, ultimately shooting her seven times.
“He then shot himself four times with a blow to the head,” she said. “It shows you the anger and adrenaline he had because he didn’t die until an hour later at the hospital. Those reasons have pushed me to not give up no matter the circumstances and fight for her story. He could not control her any longer and when she spoke up, he decided to silence her. Now, I share that story in hopes to inspire others. We can prevent suicide and look for certain signs in people and understand mental health.”
Kyerra and Olin lived with one of her greatest role models, her grandmother. Kyerra saw how easy she could have been led to bad temptations as a teenager in her hometown, but a local pastor encouraged her to find her faith and she began attending church.
“He became the reason why I started volunteering,” she said. “He continued to keep asking me if I would be baptized. I said, ‘I don’t know if I even believe in God, how could he have taken my parents?”
But she then attended a church mission trip in Santa Paula, California, where they helped with residential renovations. A little Hispanic girl that was at one home kept asking Kyerra to braid her hair, and she refused, trying to keep focused.
“I finally braided her hair and she was almost in tears. It was the act of kindness that gave her this level of happiness. I had never seen someone feel so grateful in such a simple act,” Kyerra said. “On the 32-hour ride back from California, Pastor Randy asked me what do you think of this Jesus guy now. I said, ‘If this is what it does and what Christianity is all about, I’m all for it.’”
In September 2005, Kyerra and her brother Olin were baptized, and they both continued to work in the youth group, attend church mission trips and volunteer in their community until high school graduation. She originally pursued a degree in journalism at Concordia College in Selma, Alabama, and then transferred to the University of South Alabama. The shooting death of an old high school friend who was recently released from prison and starting a new life made her change her major to political science and criminal justice.
A lot of things happened near that time in her life, including getting married, having her now 6-year-old son Aaron Massey, Jr. and then getting divorced in 2013. While she was still in college, her grandmother, who had been her sole provider at that time, had a stroke and their home burned down.
“It was this whole whirlwind of craziness, but it was probably one of the best things that happened to me because I leaned on my grandmother so much for support that I didn’t really know how to be an adult. It forced me into that adulthood, and I have always had a job but now it is critical,” she said.
Through the help of a longtime mentor, Renee Reuter, District 2 counselor for Missouri’s Jefferson County, Kyerra had found refuge in helping work on her campaigns and joint projects like fundraisers for the Acts 1:8 Mission Society, which Kyerra is still involved with. Renee’s husband, Michael, was elected as a circuit clerk in Jefferson County and Renee, noting there was no guarantee of a job, encouraged Kyerra to apply where they were employed professionally.
“I applied and became deputy clerk at Jefferson County, which is the 23rd Judicial Circuit. … That pushed me to apply to the Office of State Court Administrators twice and was rejected both times,” she said. “However, one of the directors encouraged me to apply again and they ended up calling me and hiring me to become a criminal analyst for the Missouri Supreme Court in Jefferson City.”
Working there for almost five years now, Kyerra has found this job a true blessing for her family. While a determined Kyerra achieved her professional goals, she also pursued growing the We Speak Foundation.
“Not only would I talk to people, but I would be there for people. That is what people did for me,” she said. “It was a lifesaver and I had people that would say I’ll walk with you no matter how tough the road is, we’ll walk together. It was that understanding that brought about We Speak Foundation. No strings attached, just helping people. It doesn’t matter if we get donations or not, because as long as I have a job, our tithes and offerings will be given back to the community.”
Up until this year when Kyerra registered We Speak Foundation with the state of Missouri, the organization did not take donations. It was all out of Kyerra’s pocket, and she didn’t mind. She simply started connecting with people randomly and finding out how she could help them.
Kyerra had served on the United Nations – St. Louis chapter board, and is still a member, as well as being actively involved in Little Bit of Haven, a temporary housing facility for hospital patients and families in St. Louis. As a longtime avid volunteer, she had built valuable connections and resources.
“If they are starting a business, we help them understand what kind of business they want to do. If it is an organization, we teach them about the terminologies that go along with starting an organization and help increase their volunteers,” she said. “The ultimate goal is to get everybody in one room to be able to network at some point. I’m a believer in the stone soup syndrome, which is when one guy comes into town, has a stone and wants to make soup. He puts it in boiling water, but you can’t make a soup with just stone, so one person puts in carrots and the list goes on with different items to make a soup. Once we bring all those resources together, we can feed a lot of people, even if we start with just a stone. When we think of We Speak Foundation, it is about helping each other and doing the best we can to pull those resources together in a community.”
Kyerra has had success with We Speak Foundation since its inception, seeing how her free advertising and marketing services have helped entrepreneurs and organizations. She was attending the Pratcher-Davis Foundation annual gala, an organization founded by two of her high school classmates, Erica Pratcher and Sheree Davis, in 2016. That year, Pratcher and Davis wanted to host a graduation party in support of their own educational achievements and present a scholarship to a graduating senior from their alma mater, East St. Louis High School. Amazed by the support they received from friends, family and the community, they decided to present a scholarship every year through the foundation they established.
Kyerra needed her makeup done for this event and found a lady near her hometown who was willing to give her a two-hour session at an inexpensive price. Their conversation flowed positively, and Kyerra decided to get a selfie of her and share how much she liked her makeup session on Instagram. Outside of marketing this woman’s talents to other communities by using a variety of hashtags used in all We Speak Foundation social media posts, Kyerra also presented her with a gift filled with products from Rihanna’s new makeup line, Fenty Beauty.
“We buy things for free for people because we want to spread that kindness. We hope they pass that along,” Kyerra said, noting they also have a newsletter, share events and host fundraisers for those they are assisting and supporting. “We are trying to spread that message of kindness along to others.”
The Pratcher-Davis Foundation, owner of MisFits Clothing Boutique, LLC and Premium Pets have shared their appreciation in testimonials for Kyerra, her volunteers (including brother Olin) and We Speak Foundation.
“As much as I love politics, I love people more. No matter your president, it doesn’t stop you picking up trash in your neighbor’s yard,” she said.
Kyerra saw that need in Jefferson City following the May 22 tornado. Living in a neighborhood close to the tornado’s path, she and Terry Ward, her fiancé and foundation volunteer, were fortunately unaffected. Yet, she decided she needed to help her neighbors by collecting debris and cleaning up properties.
“One kid drove by and said thanks for helping our community and that was my motivation to continue. The next day, I realized that the 24-hour day care (Joy and Gladness Children’s Academy) was hit. My son had gone there and it was just heartbreaking. I can’t imagine how many parents need a 24-hour day care,” she said. “I grabbed a rake and we all started cleaning out the back parking lot. This was the least I could do. … (A friend of mine) said you must figure out what you can do within the capacity that you are in. I can’t go cut down trees, but I can pick up trash and do small things to help. … The little things do help people.”
Now that the foundation is registered with the state of Missouri, Kyerra has comprised a way for people to donate to the foundation and give back to their own community at the same time. Kyerra said, for example, she helped build a young lady’s website for free and she wanted to donate back to the We Speak Foundation. Half of her money went toward the We Speak Foundation’s nest of tithes and offerings for services they can provide to others. The other half of her money went back to a cause in her own community, which so happened to be a different young lady who requested some water and other items for a local youth football team.
In 2020 or 2021, Kyerra has plans to gain enough donations to set up a gala in Jefferson City honoring those in the area who have practiced outstanding community service. She hopes this will inspire even more people to volunteer with We Speak Foundation or simply give back to others.
“It doesn’t matter what you need because there are resources everywhere and we will hook them up for you. … We wouldn’t turn anybody away, and we will do what is in our capacity to do,” she said. “We believe God will provide. If we have it to give, God has blessed us with it to give.”
For more information about We Speak Foundation, call 618-974-4429, visit wespeakfoundation.org or find We Speak Foundation on Instagram or Facebook.