by Mary Wilson, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hickman Mills Educational Foundation recognized two outstanding alums on Friday, November 2, at their annual gala fundraiser. Mark Launiu, a 2007 graduate of Hickman Mills High School, and AbdulRasheed Yahaya, a 2006 graduate from Ruskin High School, teamed up to host a basketball fundraiser last August called “Play It Forward,” in which former Hickman Mills and Ruskin students competed, raising funds for school supplies.
Launiu went on to graduate from Longview and attended Kansas State University. He is cofounder and co-owner of MADE Urban Apparel, and is also the founder of Kritiq Fashion Show in Kansas City. Yahaya also attended Kansas State, where he studied Computer Information Systems. He is the owner of Local Legends Gaming.
As a child, Launiu moved to California from Hawaii, and ended up in Kansas City by accident when an aunt from Indiana said she was tired and made a pit-stop with the trailer.
“’What do you think about moving to Kansas City?’ she asked. So, here I am, right in front of you in Kansas City,” said Launiu. “I went to Dobbs Elementary School, Ervin Middle School, and graduated from Hickman Mills.”
His clothing company, MADE Urban Apparel, recently opened their second location in Kansas City, and his products are carried and sold in retailers internationally. Launiu’s wife is a teacher at Ervin.
“Everything I do is brought right back to this community,” said Launiu. “None of this I would have been able to accomplish if it wasn’t for this district.”
Yahaya attended Symington Elementary, Smith-Hale Middle School, and graduated from Ruskin.
“Mark and I met briefly at K-State, and it’s crazy how the world works and we’ve circled back around and get closer and closer,” said Yahaya.
His company, Local Legends Gaming, hosts a slew of competitive games all around the Kansas City area. It began with a mobile gaming truck one year ago, and Yahaya is currently in the middle of a 5000-square-foot build-out of a gaming center, opening in mid-December in Westport. His wife also works in education, and is an administrator at Longview Community College.
“This idea Mark had really hit home for me,” said Yahaya. “Being a product of the Hickman Mills School District, it is really great to be part of something that allows me to give back. Year after year, teachers reach in their own pockets to provide for their students. That’s the reason I wanted to be a part of this. Even if I couldn’t fork it out of my own pocket, I can use my resources to generate something with an impact.”
“Play It Forward” was inspired by Launiu’s wife, who had a DonorsChoose funding page asking for help with getting students in the Hickman Mills district what they need to be successful in the classroom. Each time, Launiu paid each project off to give back to the community he was raised in. He then decided he would like to do something for the district on a bigger scale and make a larger impact.
“I wanted to help out every teacher in the district,” said Launiu. “If my wife needed help, I was sure everyone needed help. I know what it’s like growing up in south Kansas City and being very limited.”
The charity game raised enough money to fill around 300 book bags with supplies, which were distributed at the beginning of the school year to students from all schools in the district.
“I alone can’t change the perception of what people think south Kansas City is,” said Launiu. “But, I want the change to start in the classrooms.”
Launiu and Yahaya intend to make the “Play It Forward” charity basketball game an annual event.