By David Markham
A Leawood man who channeled his grief over the 2002 murder of his daughter into an organization which has taught tens of thousands of girls and women to fight back against the same kind of senseless violence that happened to her recently died.
Roger Kemp, 77, founder of not-for profit The Ali Kemp Educational Foundation, passed away unexpectedly on March 1.
In association with the foundation, Kemp fostered the creation of the T.A.K.E. Defense program, which was established in 2004 in partnership with Johnson County Park and Recreation District and in cooperation with Blue Valley Recreation Commission and Leawood Park and Recreation. Over nearly 20 years, this critically-acclaimed self-defense program, which works to empower women with new skills and lifesaving knowledge, has successfully provided training to more than 70,000 girls and women ranging in age from 12 to 90 across the United States.
But this isn’t the foundation’s only accomplishment.
“He led with a kind demeanor and a strength to not be denied,” The Ali Kemp Education Foundation’s Executive Director Jill Leiker said of Roger Kemp. Leiker is also T.A.K.E.’s lead instructor as well as wellness manager for JCPRD. “He worked tirelessly to bring his daughter’s murderer to justice, and it was through this pursuit that he, alongside LAMAR Advertising, created a billboard campaign which focused upon finding her murderer. This initiative prompted law enforcement agencies, both locally and on a national scale, to adopt the same concept which resulted in the apprehension of hundreds of murderers.”
T.A.K.E. draws its name from Kemp’s daughter Ali, who was murdered in the summer of 2002 at age 19 while working as a lifeguard at a residential subdivision pool. T.A.K.E. Defense emphasizes simple but effective personal safety and self-protection techniques which can be taught to anyone. This training has been featured on America’s Most Wanted, ABC’s “20/20,” and CBS Prime Time, along with numerous local and regional news casts.
In 2011, Roger Kemp was successfully nominated by the two U.S. Senators from Kansas for the Presidential Citizen’s Medal. From a slate of over 6,000 nominees from across the United States which took White House staff three months to sort, he was selected as one of only thirteen Americans to receive the medal that year and to be honored at the White House by President Barack Obama. The Presidential Citizen’s Medal is the second-highest civilian award given by the president.
“To receive the Presidential Citizen’s Medal is a great honor and it’s nice to be acknowledged,” Kemp said after receiving the medal. “To me, it says people understand what we’re doing, they get it, and they appreciate what we’re doing.”
“When the white House called Roger, one of the mentions was that the president held this program close to his heart because he has two young daughters,” Leiker added at the time.
In the forward of his book “Ali Was Here,” former America’s Most Wanted Host John Walsh commented that “Kathy and Roger (Kemp) didn’t let Ali’s killer claim another victim. They took their hurt and anger and turned it into something positive and helpful to others.”
“Roger founded The Ali Kemp Educational Foundation with the mantra that ‘I don’t care what it costs to do this program, if we save one life out there, it’s worth it,’” Leiker said. As she first said back in 2004, “what makes this self-defense program unique is Ali. Our goal is just to get the word out and to make as many people aware of the need for self-protection as possible.”
In 2005, the T.A.K.E. Defense program received the Kansas Recreation and Park Association’s Innovative Program of the Year Award. The following year, it won an achievement award in the safety category from the National Association of Counties.
In addition to Ali, the Kemps are the parents of sons Tyler and Drew. For more than 40 years, Roger Kemp and a partner owned and operated Quality Plastics Systems. Kemp also worked in machinery sales and in real estate. He was a past board member of the Ad Hoc Commission Against Crime, as well as a past committee member of three administrations of the Kansas Attorney General’s Office who reviewed and awarded grants to shelters and homes for victims of abuse. He was also active in several organizations including the Leawood Rotarians.
Leiker made it clear that the foundation and T.A.K.E. Defense seminars will continue.
“If anyone lived a life that should be a lesson for others, it was Roger,” Leiker said. “He taught us that moving forward, even when it’s seems the world has stopped, is the only way to approach the unthinkable pain. The continuation of Ali’s Foundation isn’t a choice – it’s a duty and an honor by all involved.”
As previously scheduled, T.A.K.E. will be presenting a self-defense training seminar from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, March 26, at the Shawnee Civic Center, 13817 Johnson Drive, Shawnee. To learn more or to sign up, click here. In conjunction with Blue Valley Recreation, another local T.A.K.E. seminar is scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, July 23, at Oxford Middle School, 12500 Switzer, Overland Park. To learn more or to sign up for that seminar, click here. For either seminar, a $12 donation is appreciated but not required for participation. Any additional Inquiries about T.A.K.E. programs should be directed to Jill Leiker at Jill.firstname.lastname@example.org.