Johnson's Associate in Applied Science degree helps to expand his successful company
A little more than six years ago, Kendrick Johnson was at a crossroads. After years of living on Skid Row in Los Angeles and battling substance abuse, he could keep going in the same direction or change course.
"I was sitting in a sober living home, and I was drinking and using," he said. "And I just decided, 'You're going to die if you don't do something."
Johnson contacted his mother, who lived in Kansas City, and asked for help. Though she was moving to Kentucky in a month, his mother bought him a plane ticket and gave him an opportunity to start over in his hometown.
"I didn't know if I was going to be able to stay here, so I told everybody I knew that I was coming home to help my mother move," Johnson said. "I said I'd be back because I didn't know."
Johnson's first step was joining Alcoholics Anonymous through Unity Temple on The Plaza, where he worked the program and found guidance with a sponsor. A few weeks later, he walked around town to find a job.
He got his foot in the door at Chartwell Realty, where broker John Strong agreed to give him a chance to learn the business.
"I told him I'd be willing to work for free on an internship while I got things straightened out," Johnson said. "After a couple of days, he called me and told me he would give me the internship. That was my first opening in the business."
FALLING TO SKID ROW
Real estate has always appealed to Johnson, who began working in sales at a young age.
"I was knocking on doors, selling books and magazines door-to-door at the age of 17," he said. "I was with a traveling sales company and met several people out there who told me I was really good at sales, but I was selling a low-market item. I needed to find something people wanted and something that was actually going to make money."
Johnson moved to Los Angeles after he traveled there while on a sales trip. Unfortunately, he embraced the party scene, putting his work life on hold.
"I made a lot of bad choices at that point in my life," he said. "Unfortunately, I have an addictive personality, so partying became my life, which pretty much derailed me for 15 years."
Though he wasn't homeless and living in tents like many of the people who live on Skid Row, Johnson did live in the community for more than 10 years in low-income housing and shelters.
"Those places kept me in the Skid Row environment, and as soon as you step out the door, you're faced with every bad choice in the world you can make," he said. "My job was supporting my habit."
THE TURNING POINT
Though Johnson didn't obtain sobriety until 2011, a turning point came in 2007 while he was in rehabilitation. After years without direction, Johnson enrolled at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, studying culinary arts.
He worked for a catering company for a while before relapsing, a cycle that continued for several years. During that time, however, he took several classes and built a foundation of knowledge.
"I didn't get any certifications, but I gained a lot of knowledge," Johnson said. "I enjoyed studying real estate, and I knew that housing was something people would always want and need to buy."
After arriving in Kansas City, Johnson continued to learn more about real estate, working as an intern for Chartwell Realty for six months while attending classes at Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley.
In the fall of 2011, Johnson realized his dream was to own his own business.
"On Sept. 13, 2011, I came up with the concept of Johnson's Property Management," he said. "Over the summer, I had studied for my real estate license, paid for the test and passed it the first time I took it. But they denied me a license because of my past.
"It was devastating. I could do what I've always done and use it as an excuse to go back to my crazy world, or I could find a way around it. And that's when it hit me: Build your own investment company."
BUILDING A BUSINESS
Johnson continued to take classes while working to build his business. Every morning, he drove around Kansas City, writing down telephone numbers on "for rent" signs and scanning Craig's List for additional contact information.
"I got my first opportunity with a house off 85th and Wornall, and I worked for 10 percent," he said. "It actually cost me more money to rent that house than I made, but it gave me the experience I needed. I kept doing the same thing every day."
Though it took a while to build momentum, Johnson caught his break when he began working for entrepreneur Bob Gibson.
"All he wanted me to do is screen people who wanted houses or places to rent, and he would call them," he said. "If they took the house, he would pay me 20 percent."
Johnson gave Gibson three names, and one of them took a house. In a matter of days, Gibson sent him a check in the mail. The relationship grew until Johnson was showing homes and ultimately managing six houses for a commission.
"He wanted me to find houses to buy. Whenever he would call and ask for something, I never told him no," Johnson said. "I just worked hard day-in and day-out to build what I wanted."
In 2013, Gibson gave Johnson money to buy houses, which were left in Johnson's name. Four years later, he manages 40 houses and owns eight properties.
"My life is bigger than I ever imagined," said Johnson, who also owns a renovation company, BKCHAB Services. "All I wanted to do was make some money and be in this business."
ENHANCING HIS CAREER AT MCC-BUSINESS & TECHNOLOGY
After several years in real estate, Johnson discovered that one of the biggest issues in the business was finding a reliable HVAC company. To solve that problem, he enrolled in the HVAC job-ready certificate program at MCC-Business & Technology.
"What I wanted to do was have enough information about the knowledge and systems to decipher whether or not I was being told the truth and getting quality work from somebody I hired," he said. "And if I got in a pinch in an emergency, I had the ability to work on a unit myself."
Johnson was using what he learned in the classroom just a few weeks into the program. If he couldn't troubleshoot a problem in one of the homes he managed, he'd bring the issue to class, and fellow students and instructors would help to resolve it.
"Kendrick was an outstanding student and is an incredible story," said Cecil Davis, HVAC program coordinator. "He has taken what he learned here and applied it to his business. It's wonderful to see him succeed and his business continuing to thrive. It was an honor to have him in the classroom and labs."
Johnson credited the HVAC instructors, saying, "Cecil and Mike Thorne, really all the instructors, have been exceptional teachers for me. I couldn't have asked for better people to teach me how to do this."
"We take great pride in seeing our students achieve their dreams," added Dr. Jackie Gill, president of MCC-Business & Technology. "Kendrick is a prime example of what our students can accomplish. We are thrilled to be a part of his transformation."
Another driving force in Johnson's reclamation has been his daughter, Anissa. After 17 years of not being involved in her life, he has built a strong relationship with her.
"My mother and my daughter's grandmother made statements to me that resonated," said Johnson, who also is engaged to fiancée Venice. "My daughter's grandmother told me that I couldn't come be in my daughter's life unless I was ready. My mother told me that because I don't have any brothers, I was the only man of the household and since I have my mother, sister and daughter, they were waiting for me to come be the man in their world."
Johnson reconnected with his daughter shortly after returning to Kansas City in 2011. Six years later, she moved to Kansas City and currently attends MCC-Penn Valley. In addition, his success has allowed him to provide for Anissa, who was born with cerebral palsy.
"My daughter's the key. I do this for her, and while doing so, I get to live out my dream," he said. "She also works for me. She logs receipts, tracks invoices, creates invoices, takes and logs rent. She does all the little things that would keep me up until 2 in the morning. We have a beautiful relationship today."
Johnson also hopes to develop a real estate program that helps people better their lives. The program would teach individuals key aspects such as property value, credit and finance.
"What I'd love to do is change inner-city areas from 70 percent renters to 70 percent owners," he said. "You have to love what you do. If you love what you do, you'll never have a problem getting up to do it."
MCC-Business & Technology helps HVAC student find way
Gamaliel Felix almost quit. It wasn't that he couldn't handle the workload. In fact, he was thriving in his Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) classes at Metropolitan Community College-Business & Technology.
The financial strain of taking care of his family and paying for classes was just too much. Until program coordinator Cecil Davis stepped in to help.
"I was close to quitting because I ran out of money," he said. "Cecil found out about that and helped me apply for a scholarship from MCC. With that, I was able to finish."
Felix, 31, finished strong, earning an HVAC advanced certificate in 2014 with straight A's. Two years later, he continues to build a career in the industry as an engineer at Centerpoint Medical Center in Independence, Missouri.
"Getting my education here, getting my certificate, has changed everything for me and my family," he said. "I wanted a career, not a job, and I have that. Getting my certificate here made a huge difference, made me more marketable."
A lifelong resident of Kansas City, Felix graduated from DeLaSalle Charter School. He attended MCC-Longview, receiving an associate in applied science while completing the Ford Automotive Student Service Educational Training (ASSET) program.
Felix worked at Broadway Ford in Kansas City for a few years, then "jumped around at a couple of jobs" and worked at Castle Metals for eight years before it closed.
"That left me looking around, and I was lost there for a while," Felix said. "One of my aunts told me about HVAC, and I started looking around and looked at the program here on the website. I started asking around, and people were going to school here for HVAC and recommended it."
Nearly a decade after receiving an associate's degree, Felix returned to MCC, enrolling in HVAC classes at the Business & Technology campus in fall 2013.
"My goal has been to get the stationary engineering certificate in Industrial Technology, and I knew that the HVAC certificate would get me halfway there," he said. "I really enjoyed taking classes in HVAC. Cecil Davis and (instructor) Mike Thorne are great teachers. They gave us real-life experience in our classes, like trouble-shooting stuff we would run across in the field. I liked that."
Felix credited his wife, Guadalupe, for his success in the HVAC program. While he attended classes and took care of daughters Isabella, 5, and Priscilla, 4, she worked.
"My wife supported me while I was doing that, and now I've got the career to support them," Felix said. "My family is my motivation."
After receiving his HVAC advanced certificate in 2014, Felix worked as an engineer for MC Realty Group for nearly a year. He then worked at Union Station and North Kansas City Hospital before his current position as day-shift engineer at Centerpoint.
Felix's success early in his career has not surprised Davis.
"I could tell early on that Gamaliel was a leader and not a follower. He knew what he wanted to do and was willing to put on the hard work to make it happen," he said. "Gamaliel has a goal in terms of his vocation, and he is well on his way to reaching it. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if in the future Gamaliel becomes supervisor of an entire facility."
In addition to working, Felix has continued to pursue a stationary engineer certificate at MCC-Business & Technology.
"The Industrial Technology classes have been a big help because I'm doing more of that stuff now at work," he said. "I learned about replacing motors, rebuilding them, and that's something I can apply to work immediately.
"I've had a great experience here, and that's more than just the classroom. I had a lot of help from others who are always going above and beyond. People notice those things. It makes a difference."