Founded by McCarthy Building Companies in 2020, Construction Inclusion Week is an annual week-long, industry-wide effort to champion change and cultivate a more inclusive construction industry. Now in its third year, the event has grown exponentially with over 5,000 firms registered to participate nationwide.
The event’s Lifetime Achievement Award celebrates the exceptional standards of construction excellence, dedication, and accomplishment in the St. Louis region over a sustained period of time. Surrounded by family, Kennedy and Karl Grice of Grice Group Architects were honored with the award at Harris Stowe University’s Emerson Performance Center in front of a crowd of minority AEC industry organizations and businesses.
“Kennedy has played an integral role in the creative, technical, and professional progress as a minority business development owner over the course of his professional life,” according to an email from McCarthy announcing the award recipients.
Kennedy wanted to be an architect since age nine and became fascinated with construction, watching homes being built in his Richmond Heights neighborhood designed by African American architect Charles Flemming. Despite a high school guidance counselor advising him in 1963 that Washington University’s schools of architecture “only took the cream of the crop and no negroes,” the university reached out to Kennedy in 1969 as the Civil Rights movement gained recognition and invited him to enter the School of Architecture as a graduate student with a degree in another subject. He then went on to study architecture at Washington University for an additional four years before finally becoming the first African American architect registered in the state of Missouri.
He founded KAI in 1980 from his home office and grew the business alongside his oldest son Michael Kennedy, Jr., CEO, into one of the largest minority-owned AEC firms in the country with a diverse workforce of over 150 employees at its St. Louis headquarters and offices in Kansas City, Kansas; Atlanta, Georgia; and Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas.
“Today is so appreciated, I am humbled by it,” Kennedy said. “I didn’t forget what my high school guidance counselor told me. As a 17-year-old, that went all the way to my marrow. Ever since then, I had two ambitions motivating me daily. One was to prove that he was wrong and the most important one was to demonstrate to my people that you can do it too. I couldn’t find a room with this many African American businesses in the construction industry here in the City of St. Louis when I started my career.”
Over the course of his career, Kennedy and the KAI team have designed several St. Louis-area landmarks, including the St. Louis City Justice Center, St. Louis Metro Light Rail Stations, Clyde C. Miller Career Academy, Harris-Stowe’s William L. Clay Early Childhood Center, and the Downtown Gateway Transportation Center, among others.
Kennedy has also pursued numerous civic commitments to the St. Louis area, having served on the Board of Directors for the Downtown St. Louis Partnership, Forest Park Hospital, United Way of Greater St. Louis, St. Louis Regional Commerce and Growth Association, American Red Cross, and others.