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Superior artist prints up pride for queer community, Black-owned businesses and more

Kia Ronning started Keeks Kreations in January. “The pandemic hit hard, both financially and mentally. I was looking for an outlet,” she said.

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Keeks Kreations owner Kia Ronning stands with models wearing shirts she designed on Thursday, May 20, 2021 at the Barkers Island Pavilion in Superior. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
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At Kia Ronning’s command, a confetti cannon erupted, spewing bits of yellow, green, blue and more, as her models raised their arms and smiled for her camera.

In honor of Pride month, six folks posed with Ronning’s new line of T-shirts, water bottles, stickers and keychains.

Bee Golding of Duluth wore a shirt with Ronning’s logo, bearing the trans flag with blue, pink and white. For Golding, this image means more than the symbolism of masculine, feminine and nonbinary. “When I see that, I know I’m safe,” they said.

“Definitely home, definitely home,” added Jordan McMillian of Duluth, who wore Ronning’s rainbow flag shirt.

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Keeks Kreations owner Kia Ronning of Superior takes photos of models wearing shirts designed by her on Thursday, May 20, 2021, at the Barkers Island Pavilion in Superior. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

“I try and shine a light on people who may not be noticed so much, people of color, people of different gender identities, and sexual orientation," Ronning said.

It’s Ronning’s first collection in what has been a year of firsts.

Since launching Keeks Kreations in January, the Superior woman has created shirts for the University of Minnesota Duluth’s track team and built a clientele of local small business owners.

She started a Facebook page for other local Black-owned businesses to share advice and resources, and she organized the Northland Black Business Showcase in February.

READ MORE ABOUT NORTHLAND ARTISANS:

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Jasmine Flowers

Jasmine Flowers had not seen events like this in Duluth before, and it introduced her to Spoon’s Bar and Grill and Loc'd Up Kreationz / LUKS Beauty, she said.

Flowers is grateful to have met Ronning, who has been a big help with her hair and clothing outfit Blessing Royal Collection .

“The reason why I am far in my business is because of her,” Flowers added.

Ronning’s invitation to the showcase was key in learning more about the Northland and getting involved, said Nate Elsey Williams.

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Nate Elsey Williams

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From that, Elsey Williams, who was new to Duluth, connected with Entrepreneur Fund, who he talks with every other week as he prepares to open Northside Bags .

This event was an introduction to Duluth’s diversity, he said.

She doesn’t like to take a lot of credit for the work she’s done, but Ronning is an integral resource and voice in our community.

“I definitely appreciate her,” he said.

Ronning said organizing the showcase took a lot of networking and word-of-mouth that introduced her to other businesses she didn’t know about previously.

“I was so blown away to be able to have that for the community and just being how everyone lit up as they were putting up their tables in the gym.

“This is huge, we're everywhere, we're doing it,” Ronning said.

Information-sharing has been a big help because many small, Black-owned businesses don’t know where to find events, and some don’t know they’re happening.

“The community is growing, and these businesses are growing, and it’s so cool to be a part of that,” Ronning said.

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Kia Ronning lines up a vinyl cutout on a T-shirt for a client before heat transferring it in her kitchen in Superior on May 10, 2021. Ronning started her business, Keeks Kreations, as an outlet during the pandemic. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Keeks Kreations was born out of the trials of the past year.

“The pandemic hit hard, both financially and mentally. I was looking for an outlet,” she said.

Always an artistic person, Ronning took to the Cricut machine she got as a Christmas gift, and that would become the jumping-off point for Keeks Kreations.

Her workspace is a long table behind the couch in her Superior home.

Her Cricut machine is covered with her pineapple stickers and others that read “dripping with melanin” and “one crafty queen.”

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Kia Ronning pulls the backing off a vinyl cutout she affixed to a T-shirt for a client in her kitchen in Superior on May 10, 2021. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

A closet holds water bottles with Black Lives Matter fists, and Black Girl Magic and Say Their Names lettering. Ronning holds up a shirt that reads “campfires and cocktails” with an RV, a fire and pine trees.

Nearby is a shelf and a closet containing blank canvases of shirts, water bottles and planners, all awaiting her designs.

She prints out a logo for Royal Roots, and weeds out the tiny bits of vinyl she won’t need before walking to her kitchen to heat transfer it onto a shirt.

She’ll repeat this process. Over and over.

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Kia Ronning recently created T-shirts using this logo for the University of Minnesota track team. A sticker of the logo is on the back of her iPad at the workstation for her business, Keeks Kreations, at her Superior home. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

It’s a one-woman show, and it can be time-consuming, she said, but she has designs on how to maximize her time and work smarter.

Ronning recently switched roles from Neighborhood Youth Services program coordinator to Girls Restorative Program coordinator at Men As Peacemakers.

She works with many teens, and among other things, she intends to be a resource and an example of entrepreneurship for them, to put them in the spotlight and teach them how to run an event like the Northland Black Business Showcase.

“We have so many skills and passions that we can bring to these girls. Our youth need that little bit of push and somebody who believes in them.

“I have my own stuff to do with Keeks Kreations, a huge passion is to help other people and make stuff happen for them,” Ronning said.

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Kia Ronning checks out a sticker she made for her business, Keeks Kreations, at her home in Superior Monday morning, May 10, 2021. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Waabibizhiikwe Janssen met Ronning when she’d bring her children to NYS.

“My kids instantly gravitated towards her,” she said.

Janssen recalled Ronning organizing themed events and helping prepare food bags for kids when school wasn’t in session.

While she is missed, Janssen said it is exciting to see Keeks Kreations progress.

“When she puts her mind to something, she does it, and she can move mountains. … She’s part of this community, and I think we’re really lucky to have her.”

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Keeks Kreations owner Kia Ronning holds a keychain showing colors representing an ally of the LGBTQIA+ community on Thursday, May 20, 2021, at the Barker's Island Pavilion in Superior. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

More info:

Melinda Lavine is an award-winning, multidisciplinary journalist with 16 years professional experience. She joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2014, and today, she writes about the heartbeat of our community: the people.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

She earned bachelors degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota in 2006, and started her career at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that summer. She helped launch the Herald's features section, as the editor, before moving north to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346, mlavine@duluthnews.com.
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