Kham Beard: From Tractors to Triumph, An Inspirational Journey

A daughter shares her father’s extraordinary and inspiring story.

Hailing from the heartland of Arkansas, Kham Beard’s journey began with a steering wheel in hand – not a glamorous start for someone who would later define the essence of style and success. His story is a compelling odyssey of triumph over adversity.

As he navigates through racial threats, transforms a single store into a thriving fashion empire, and takes on historic legal battles, Beard’s story is a captivating narrative of resilience, ambition, and unwavering commitment to his community. Join us as we delve into his extraordinary life: A man who turned challenges into stepping stones and fashioned an enduring legacy against all odds.

Forced to head North due to racial threats, Kham found himself in the Windy City at 14. He went from being a tractor-driving country boy into the best-dressed maven of a city high school. While others were contemplating algebra, Kham mastered the art of fashion, thanks to his part-time job at a local shoe store.

He seamlessly juggled helping his mother after school and working a part-time gig, embodying the true definition of hard work. After a stint in the U.S. Army Special Forces, Kham’s path circled back to retail, with his keen fashion sense catching the eye of a retail competitor that scouted him to be their first Black buyer and manager.

However, the road to success wasn’t without its bumps. After accepting the position and despite transforming the store’s revenue, more than doubling its annual sales, Kham faced more racial discrimination. Undeterred, he issued an ultimatum, demanding fair treatment and the fulfillment of promises. When the company assumed he couldn’t walk away due to family obligations, Kham proved them wrong, birthing what we now know as Kham & Nate’s.

From a single store on 47th, Kham & Nate’s expanded to 12 stores across Chicago and Indiana, even claiming a spot on Michigan Avenue as the first black-owned shoe store. Racism, public or private, didn’t halt Kham or co-owner Nate Parker’s stride. A discriminatory Michigan Ave landlord? No problem. Kham and Nate pivoted, establishing a standalone department store on 87th and Cottage Grove, featuring the first Fashion Fair cosmetics counter outside a major chain.

The flagship store became a fashion haven, hosting major designer brands and dressing nearly every major Black celebrity gracing Chicago. Kham often speaks to the community’s support and the importance of providing Black people with great service and quality products in our own neighborhoods.

Ever grateful for community support, Kham traversed the globe to places such as Spain and Italy to bring exotic styles to Chicago’s streets. Ebony magazine recognized Kham and Nate’s meteoric rise in the article “Young Chicagoans Build Million Dollar Shoe Empire,” leading to more growth and hundreds of employees.

Kham Beard was part of an elite group of Chicago Business Professionals; the group was the first minority to own a network affiliate TV station under Seaway Communications, which owned two network stations. Kham served as the treasurer of that organization. This work was historic and one of his proudest moments. 

Kham’s ambition was boundless – his goal? Bring Michigan Ave vibes to Chicago’s South Side. Racial disparity showed its ugly face again in the 1990s, leading to the historic Kham & Nates vs Whiting Bank case.

Kham decided to take his love of community and move to a bigger arena, entering real estate and property management as Walomahk Management. He strategically acquired multiple buildings on a single block, reshaping the neighborhood’s ambiance. This pattern repeated across various areas, where he amassed ownership of over 300 units.

The City of Dolton witnessed Kham’s magic as he transformed what was once considered the Dolton’ projects’ into a sought-after townhouse complex with six buildings and six parking lots. The complex housed several professionals and city officials for over 15 years until its historic sale.

A life of service, sacrifices and overcoming every obstacle, Kham never allowed discrimination or a closed door to stop him; he continued to thrive. Now, in his golden years, he hasn’t slowed down. He serves on several boards and holds the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corp close to his heart.

He attributes much of his success to his loving wife and childhood sweetheart, Dorothy Beard. He says, “Her patience, support, and love of God has always propelled our lives.”

He continues to thank the loyal customers and tenants he has served over the years and often attributes his longevity to building strong teams and family support. All of his children have had active roles in his businesses.

Kham Beard, a living legend, continues to inspire with his unshakeable spirit, leaving an indelible mark on the pages of history. From tractor wheels to the world of fashion and real estate, Kham Beard’s journey is a tale of triumph against all odds — and yes, a bit of luxury, fun and humor sprinkled along the way.

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