by KELSEY CIPOLLA | photos courtesy of THE ALI KEMP FOUNDATION
Seventeen years after Ali Kemp was murdered, her legacy lives on through the The Ali Kemp Education (T.A.K.E.) Foundation that her parents, Roger and Kathy Kemp, founded in her honor.
Nineteen-year-old Ali was home from her first year of college at Kansas State University and working as a lifeguard at her neighborhood swimming pool in Johnson County when she was attacked and killed in 2002.
“Two weeks after that, her mother and I wanted to do a self-defense class for women and young girls, because we didn’t want it to happen to someone else,” Roger says. “We didn’t have a clue how to do it, but we were surrounded by wonderful people.”
Roger and Kathy met with various stakeholders in the community. Eventually, they were connected to Jill Leiker, the corporate and community wellness manager for Johnson County Park and Recreation District and a ninth-degree black belt.
Roger was halfway through telling Leiker Ali’s story when she stopped him and asked how she could help. Now the T.A.K.E. Foundation’s executive director, Leiker took four months developing the self-defense program. After launching a pilot program in 2004, the classes, dubbed T.A.K.E. Defense, debuted in 2005 and have been available to girls and women in the Kansas City community and on college campuses around the country ever since.
Leiker realized the program needed to be focused on information participants could immediately walk away with and apply. The curriculum draws from the basic concepts of personal protection Leiker learned from her martial arts experience but is largely education based. Participants go over the ABCs – awareness, boundary setting, and combat – with an emphasis on the first two principles. Instructors bring attention to the importance of increasing your awareness in everyday situations and encourage participants to examine how close somebody is and why that person is that close, teaching women how to create distance and speak to people who are overstepping boundaries.
“We’re not about being afraid, scared, or paranoid, but we want people to be aware,” Roger explains. “I firmly believe the world is 99.9 percent good, but we want people to be aware there are some people out there that don’t care.”
In T.A.K.E. Defense’s 15 years, more than 68,000 people have gone through the program, ranging from 12-year-old girls to women in their 90s. Although a small donation is suggested for attending the class, it’s never required.
“Roger and I never want to be in a place where somebody would like to do the class but can’t afford to even make a dollar donation – quite frankly those are the ones, potentially, that need it the most,” Leiker says. “We never want to deny anybody this education.”
Universities will often work to raise money to bring T.A.K.E. Defense to their campus, but the foundation’s biggest fundraiser is its annual T.A.K.E. Golf Classic, happening this year on Sept. 12 at Adam’s Pointe Golf Course in Blue Springs.
Funds raised go toward continuing to provide the self-defense training, which has saved lives over the course of the 15-year program. Roger finds the organization’s impact humbling, he says.
That T.A.K.E. Defense continues to attract so many participants is a testament to Ali’s story, according to Leiker.
“When people look at her, she could be anybody’s daughter,” she explains. “She could be your neighbor; she could be your niece; she could be your granddaughter.”
She could even be you. Both Roger and Leiker say the biggest barrier they face is emphasizing to people that what happened to Ali could truly happen to anyone.
“This is my hardest job,” Leiker explains. “People always think that this is never going to happen to them. It’s always somebody else, right? That’s not going to happen to me. That happens in somebody else’s neighborhood, in somebody else’s community, to somebody else’s kids.”
T.A.K.E. Defense challenges people to think about the places they go and answer a simple question: What would you do if you were attacked right here and now?
“We just don’t want this to happen to another little girl out there,” Roger says.
To register for an upcoming class or the T.A.K.E. Golf Classic, or to learn more about T.A.K.E. Defense, visit takedefense.org.