CHANHASSEN, Minn. – In the span of just over a week, 10 braided bracelets turned into more than $50,000 for the Minneapolis community.
Kamryn Johnson, 9, and a few neighborhood friends came up with the idea last week to make friendship bracelets and sell them at a driveway lemonade stand. Her mother, Shani Johnson, suggested that the proceeds could help recovery efforts in Minneapolis areas damaged after the senseless death of George Floyd.
"I said that would be a great idea," Kamryn said, smiling. "So we just started making bracelets, and it got bigger every day!"
That would be an understatement.
Ron Johnson of Vikings GamePlan and Vikings Gameday Live's daughter, Kamryn, has raised more than $50,000 for the Minneapolis community with friendship bracelets.
What started as a small glass bowl holding 10 bracelets has become the "Kamryn and Friends" neighborhood effort for unity and justice. Beneath a pair of tents, two shaded tables hold corkboards displaying a large number of the brightly colored accessories.
The bracelets have been carefully organized by color and category, and Kamryn told us that the Vikings- and Gophers-themed bracelets have been the biggest sellers.
"I'm really happy that we've raised this much money so that we can help families in need," she said.
"When I grow up, I want to help other people," she explained. "I want to be a labor-and-delivery nurse, who also helps people."
Shani and her husband, FOX 9 analyst and KFAN and Vikings Entertainment Network contributor Ron Johnson, are proud of their daughter for making a difference during a time that is painful and difficult for so many people.
"We can't even put it into words. It's just nice to see, when you teach your kids to be a certain way or to do certain things, to see her live that out is a whole different thing," Shani said. "We're just so proud that she's serving and loving well, but she also loves doing it. Not because we're telling her to, but she's doing it on her own. That's just a proud-parent moment."
Floyd, 46, lost consciousness after an incident in which video taken by bystanders showed a Minneapolis Police Department officer kneeling on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes.
The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. Three other officers at the scene have been charged with aiding and abetting.
Protesters seeking social justice and police reforms began the night after Floyd's death. They have occurred in Minnesota, across the United States and world.
"I think oftentimes we just try to say, 'That's life. That's just life. OK, I'll move on.' And a lot of us do," Ron said of injustice and racism. "But I think this was a time for us to stand up and say it – 'This is not right.' "
Donations to support Kamryn & Friends have poured in from across the country and have included neighbors, friends, complete strangers and even some notable Minnesota sports figures. Among those who have shown their support thus far are former Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, who was one of the first to make a donation; Lynx guard Rachel Banham; Gophers offensive line coach Brian Callahan; former Gophers basketball standout Andre Hollins and Vikings safety Harrison Smith.
The All-Pro made an unexpected visit to the neighborhood to drop off a donation and show support for one of his biggest fans.
"My dad said a surprise guest was coming, and it was Harrison Smith," Kamryn said, smiling. "I was really happy.
"He got a Vikings bracelet," she added.
Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen encouraged Kamryn to "keep up the great work" after she and her family were featured Monday on Good Morning America and presented a check for $10,000.
Ron noted the significance of athletes supporting the black community, whether it be through peaceful protesting or purchasing a custom-made friendship bracelet.
"I see [the Vikings during the season] and they know me from football stuff, but just to see them understand that this is important and, honestly, when you have a white voice and you can say that, [it's impactful]," Ron said.
Kamryn & Friends has not only gained national exposure but also brought together the group of Chanhassen neighbors who have been all hands on deck in braiding the colorful thread.
"That's the part that we weren't expecting." Shani said. "Not only are we doing this for other people, but we're also uniting with the people in our neighborhood. That wasn't a goal, that wasn't even something I imagined could happen, so that's been sweet, too."
Ron observed Kamryn becoming friends with other young people in the cul-de-sac during the school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the relationships have grown even closer through this fundraiser.
"Kamryn being black in a white neighborhood, it was tough sometimes for her to figure out, 'Who are my friends? Who can I play with? Who's gonna play with me?' " Ron explained. "Just to see this, I think it's kind of added and solidified the fact that, whatever they [may have thought initially], if you don't interact with African-American kids, you don't really know, and I think now it's kind solidified, 'OK, yes, she looks different, she is different, but we are friends.'
"I hope for them, as kids, they can see this, too. Some people grow up thinking that it's the same for everybody, and it's not," Ron continued. "I hope that they all understand that. Whether they see somebody do something racist, or they're all at the park together and a kid does something that's wrong, I would hope that they realize, 'We're all friends in this' and they would stand up for it."
Kamryn and her parents hope to potentially keep the bracelet effort running one day a week throughout the summer in order to keep social-justice issues and the need for community support top-of-mind.
Some of the money raised has already been donated, including to Kyle Rudolph's recent food and supplies drive and to Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, but the family plans to continue seeking out the places of highest need over the coming weeks and months.
"There are certain causes that everyone is jumping on, and I'm more concerned about who's slipping through the cracks – and who that will be three months from now when [donations slow down]." Shani explained. "The ones that might be missed, we want to see them."
She also shared a deeper motivation behind the give-back efforts.
"We're doing it for the glory of the Lord," Shani said. "I love the [Bible] verse [Micah 6:8] – 'Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly' – that's one of my favorites, and we try to live that out in a way that is visible to others, where we're loving others well, but also in a way where it's changing us.
"Living justly should change us, too," she added. "We pray every morning and every evening that we make an impact for the Lord."
The Johnsons hope that Kamryn & Friends will show people, particularly youth, that it's possible to make a difference wherever you are.
"I think that's a huge lesson for them: How can you make a difference right where you are? Who God made you, right where you are, your specific circumstances, what can you do?" Shani said.
Asked what she's learned over the past nine days, Kamryn smiled and said with confidence, "Know that you can always find a way to help other people."