Today we’d like to introduce you to Morgan Perry.
Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
In 2012, I was a happy insurance claims adjustor working in a company culture that I adored. I had graduated with a degree in theatre in 2005 knowing I would not be earning a living do what I loved. Life had challenged me with significant loss. My boyfriend had taken his own life and my brother lost a battle with brain cancer within 14 months of each other, but life had finally stabilized. That is what life does, it continues and we catch up. I focused on finding a company that offered a livable wage and great environment. On a “Free coffee Wednesday” in September, I followed my friends into the breakroom for a chat and a laughable vending machine latte. Within 30 minutes, I was laying on the floor of my cubicle trying to ask my cubemate to call my husband with only the left side of my mouth. That’s how quickly my life changed. I will not dredge through the awful days in the hospital without a diagnosis or the nurse that mocked my hallucinations. The part you need to know about is when they could not find a reason for my stroke-like symptoms, they tried to commit me to a mental health facility. Not because that is what I needed but because they did not want a hallucinating woman disturbing their other patients. That was the moment. That was the inciting incident that threw my life off its established path and forced me to do more.
I ended up spending several months at home in a dark room fighting debilitating nausea and compromised cognitive function. Encephalitis is no joke. By the time I went back to work, I appeared to be mostly back to normal. But I had lost something. Basic math tripped me up (not exactly ideal for an insurance adjuster). Words sometimes got jumbled or got stuck in my mouth. I knew that I wasn’t completely back to normal, but life pushes on anyway. I needed to leave the company that I loved because I simply could no longer effectively do my job. Fortunately, I was lucky enough get a job at a public library.
I say fortunate because the competition for those jobs is extremely stiff! I started as a part-time employee and continued to work my insurance job. Eventually, I was able to earn a full-time position as a teen librarian and was able to leave the insurance world behind. I believe my time shelving books helped me improve my mental function. Alphabetization is hard when you’ve had a brain trauma! I would use my time at work to always be improving. I would speed around the stacks trying to retrain my right leg to keep up with my left. Before I knew it, I was able to regain most of my cognitive and physical function and I was working in an environment that I enjoyed. Then I got bored.
That boredom led me to accept a newly created position at the library. I became the library’s first business specialist. As I learned more about the business community and entrepreneurship in Kansas City, I began to reflect on my experience in the hospital. I hadn’t fit what the doctor expected to see, so he just simply stopped trying to help. I found that many entrepreneurs faced a similar situation. If people don’t understand your idea or you don’t have the startup capital, they stop trying to help you. Succeeding in business is just like anything else in life, it’s about how much support you have when you start.
Over the last three years, the cover has been ripped off of the inequities in our nation. I saw a disparity within the business community and I have made it my mission to help bridge that gap. I built a program at the library that doesn’t get to tell you, “You can’t start that business.” We design learning opportunities specifically for people who don’t succeed in traditional learning environments. While it’s trendy to help high-growth tech companies or affluent hobbyists launch their Etsy empire, we chose to focus on serving individuals and organizations that have traditionally been shut out of access to quality resources. We choose to use entrepreneurship as a community development tool. At its core, entrepreneurship is solving problems. We want to empower the community with the knowledge and resources to help solve its problems. We want the people we help to never have to experience the feeling of someone giving up on them, the way I experienced a doctor giving up on me.
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Any time you’re breaking new ground, there will be challenges. For example, my team is mobile and most of our community engagement happens outside of a library branch. That approach is somewhat terrifying to many old-school librarians. But with effective communication and listening, we have been able to show the importance and reasoning as to why we do what we do. Our commitment to active listening allows us to better acknowledge different viewpoints and address the real concerns rather than simply reacting to superficial issues.
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I’m an intrapreneur. By that, I mean I’m an employee who promotes innovative product development. I happen to work at a public library. In practice, I put the customer at the center of my designs and I produce programming or one-on-one sessions that utilize the library’s resources to help them solve their problems.
What do you like best about our city? What do you like least?
I love that Kansas City feels small enough that successful business owners are accessible to almost anyone. If you really want to take someone out for a cup of coffee, they will probably say yes. One thing that I would love to see improve in Kansas City is our own self-promotion. I speak to public libraries across the nation about the work that is done by so many outstanding organizations like KC Sourcelink, Guadalupe Center, and The Toolbox KCK. They are shocked to hear about the amazing work being done with entrepreneurs here in Kansas City, particularly the work being done with immigrants and refugees. We need to do a much better job of telling that story.
The head shot is Jill Annie Photography.