Three Black-led nonprofits respond to unprecedented times
The Starbucks Foundation has awarded $1.5 million to more than 400 nonprofits, nominated by partners, which are stretching to meet the rising need during COVID-19, particularly in the BIPOC communities. We spotlight three of them.
Jamila Coleman never turns her phone off – not when she sleeps, not on weekends, not on holidays. Never. If a girl needs her support, she wants to make sure someone is there to answer the call.
It’s what she says she wished she had when she was a little girl. Coleman, who grew up in the foster system, is the executive director of You Grow Girl!, a Seattle-based nonprofit.
“For me, it’s about my own internal trauma of not having someone there on the other end of the phone and trying to break that cycle,” she said.
“I only get paid for one hat but it’s a magic hat, so you’ve got to keep flipping it,” said Coleman
You Grow Girl!, which Coleman founded 18 years ago, focuses on inspiring girls and young women through mentorship, counseling, leadership and more. These days, in the midst of a pandemic, the “more” part has taken on new dimensions. The accountants on staff are now also starting to teach common core math to girls struggling with online school. Coleman and therapists are doing porch drop offs for food and other basic needs supplies on the porches of 10 to 15 families a week, something You Grow Girl! didn’t budget for this year but “as long as the card goes through each week, I’m swiping it,” she said.
“We wear many hats here,” she added. “I only get paid for one hat but it’s a magic hat, so you’ve got to keep flipping it.”
More than 400 grants from The Starbucks Foundation
In the midst of COVID-19, which is disproportionally affecting people of color, a racial justice movement and a struggling economy, nonprofits are stretching to meet the need. In response, The Starbucks Foundation recently awarded Neighborhood Grants to You Grow Girl! and more than 400 other nonprofit organizations in the U.S. and Canada. Recipients of the awards, which totaled $1.5 million, were nominated by Starbucks partners, with priority given to Black-led grassroots nonprofits that serve Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities.
“The research shows organizations led by people of color tend to receive fewer donations,” said Aldrinana Leung, manager of The Starbucks Foundation. "Through this round of Neighborhood Grants, we sought to recognize organizations that create more inclusive communities by promoting economic mobility and opportunity, delivering health and social services, and working with youth.”
All of the nonprofits were nominated Starbucks partners across the country, many of which have ongoing relationships with nonprofit organizations in their communities.
"The Starbucks Foundation wanted to tap into the on-the-ground knowledge of Starbucks partners to impact local communities,” said Alicia Vermaele of The Starbucks Foundation. “The Starbucks partners are each members of a community and understand the needs and opportunities in their neighborhoods and the local organizations serving their communities. We are in a really unique position to listen to insights from partners through the Neighborhood Grants nominations process.”
Vermaele said that she hopes the Neighborhood Grant program helps to strengthen the web of community support by fostering the connections between local nonprofits and store partners in the form of volunteering, hosting community drives and more.
“The opportunity for the connection with partners and the deepening of that relationship is where the magic happens,” she said.
You Grow Girl! was nominated by more than 50 Starbucks partners for a Neighborhood Grant from The Starbucks Foundation to help respond to the rising needs. Prior to COVID-19, You Grow Girl! served 100 girls a month. Now that number has increased to 150 and will likely keep climbing.
“The pandemic happened, a racial crisis happened, flu season is about to happen,” Coleman said. And, the holiday season is when You Grow Girl! sees an increase in mental health needs.
‘This is their family’
Staff members don’t call those served “clients,” but rather “participants” to honor their commitment to work toward healing, she says. She also calls them her sisters.
“We want to acknowledge they belong here, and this is their family,” she said. “I define family not by blood but the power of healing together, collaboration, how we learn from each other and grow with each other and sometimes agree to disagree.”
Coleman was 7 when she went into foster care following her birth family’s struggles with substance abuse and incarceration. “I struggled with trust and finding a place where I belonged,” she said.
Where she belonged, it turned out, was with Gracie Robinson, a domestic violence counselor who became her foster mom. “Ms. Gracie,” as people call her, is retired now but still active in volunteering with social service organizations, including You Grow Girl!. (“She shaped me to the woman I am today,” Coleman said.) Coleman’s daughter, 19-year old Annara Morn, is a college student who also works with the organization as a youth mentor. One of her foster sisters, Mila Presnell, is the administrative services director
Both Coleman and Mila were placed with Robinson a few years apart and remained connected even after Presnell returned back to her birth mother. Coleman aged out of the system at 18.
‘We’re all human at the end of the day’
Zoe Peralta-Page is a You Grow Girl! therapist who is also a Starbucks partner. Peralta-Page did an internship with the nonprofit as she was finishing her master’s degree. When the pandemic began, she took a leave from her job as Starbucks shift supervisor to work full-time for You Grow Girl! and help meet the rising need for mental health services.
“It boils down to the hierarchy of needs – food, shelter and access to services,” she said. Sometimes that means connecting the girls with a program for free internet. Other times it has meant supporting those in foster care cope with not seeing their birth families after the state suspended parental visits due to COVID-19.
“We’re all human at the end of the day and we’ve got to help other people who are going through it too,” she said.
Coleman originally founded You Grow Girl! to serve girls in the foster system, but now it’s open to any girl who wants support, with a focus on BIPOC communities. The organization offers its sisters tools for sustainable success, Coleman say, starting with mental health care as a foundation. From there, if the goal is to get an apartment, the organization helps make sure they have everything they’ll need to not only reach it, but to maintain it, such as an ID or driver’s license and a stable job and an understanding of what it will take to pay bills.
“In the real world, that’s hard to do. Those life skills are not taught in school,” she said. “And your family didn’t teach you those skills because they weren’t taught because the cycle hasn’t been broken. Let’s address that.”
At You Grow Girl!, no one has to do it on her own, she said.
“We are a sisterhood and we all contribute,” she said. “There’s hard work where we constantly have to push roadblocks out of the way but that’s what I signed up for. Family and allyship means being there.”
‘Community is the reason I’m here’
For former Starbucks partner Shyheim Banks, community is nourishment for the soul. A self-proclaimed extrovert, connecting with customers and coworkers during his shifts as a barista came naturally. When he wasn’t at work, he was also a hip-hop artist, poet and activist, so it was a melding of his passions when he was offered a full-time role with 1Hood Media, a Pittsburgh nonprofit that aims to raise awareness on social justice issues through song writing, photography, videography and other forms of art.
A year later, when Banks’ former manager Jesse Maxwell nominated 1Hood Media for a Neighborhood Grant from The Starbucks Foundation, the feeling of community has come full circle.
Banks says he is driven by a moral commitment to serve the youth in his hometown. “If it wasn’t for the community that I’m a part of, a lot of the opportunities that I’ve been granted wouldn’t have happened,” said Banks, who also goes by his artist name Treble NLS. “Community is the reason I’m here.”
Growing up, Banks said he experienced struggles with mental health, but the art and music community helped him feel supported and that he had a place where he belonged.
“I was reminded I’m not just one person going through things, I’m one person in a community going through things. Knowing that you’re not the only one really does something for you,” Banks said.
1Hood co-founder Jasiri X and Banks met through their shared involvement in community events, seeing each other at performances, protests for racial justice and more. “He always showed up, always with a positive spirit,” Jasiri remembers. “He wasn’t only emerging as an artist, but as a real leader in the community.”
At 1Hood, Jasiri says Banks is an asset not only as a member of the 1Hood team, but as a resource and role model to next generation of artists and activists. Banks, who now teaches songwriting, poetry and music engineering at the non-profit, has a calm demeanor that is counter-balanced by his positive, passionate energy, say those who know him.
“He’s such a kind soul,” said Maxwell, his former Starbucks manager, “the kind of presence you miss having in the store.”
Banks said his time at Starbucks helped lay the groundwork for his current role. “Working at Starbucks allowed me to connect with people,” he said. “They let me be me.”
1Hood, which was founded in 2006, serves both youth and young adults and offers media literacy training, conflict resolution and classes and workshops on songwriting, vocal instruction, music production, blogging, photography and videography.
“The more opportunities we can give young people to use their voice, the more opportunity we have to connect with them on other topics,” said Jasiri.
“We need to be advocates for the young people in our community,” said Jasiri, “our power is in our unity.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Banks led programs for 1Hood at the Shuman Center, a juvenile detention facility, to teach young artists how to refine their writing skills and find their own true, authentic voice. Watching students flourish in their artistic expression is therapeutic, said Banks. “It provides me with purpose and shows me that my work is needed, my words are needed. It makes me feel like I actually have a place here in society.”
Both Banks and Jasiri said they found their own voices through music and want to provide the tools and resources for others to do the same. “The more opportunities we can give young people to use their voice,” said Jasiri, “the more opportunity we have to connect with them on other topics.”
‘Genuine love will change you’
In the historic Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C., the Starbucks Community Store and the family and youth center Children of Mine are actual neighbors, though in the five months since the store opened, they’ve found they share far more than an alley.
“This organization does what we also try to do at Starbucks – to provide hope, strength and inspiration for our community. To create a passion for service. To create opportunities. Nominating them (for a Neighborhood Grant) was a no-brainer for me,” said Tyron Shumate, store manager of the Starbucks.
“Plus, if I walk out our back gate, it’s maybe 125 feet to their door. That’s one of the other reasons it made so much sense for us to collaborate – we’re pretty much taking up the whole block, so we might as well be in cahoots,” Shumate said, laughing.
Children of Mine Youth Center has provided nearly four decades of quiet, steadfast support for families in the neighborhood through after-school programs, activities and meals, many of which are not just for children, but for the whole family.
Shumate has been particularly inspired by Eugene Howie, the center’s executive director, who quickly looked for ways the center could adapt to help meet the unique needs of families in the time of COVID-19. The center has had to pause much of its in-person programming, but each day at 4 p.m. provides dinner for children in the neighborhood. On Fridays, the organization provides dinner plus a “weekend bag” full of food and snacks to help carry children into the weekend. Howie said the grant from The Starbucks Foundation will help fund hundreds of those meals. And we’re not talking sack lunches here.
“We do homestyle meals. Burgers and hot dogs. Lasagna and French bread. We serve some of the best fried chicken in the city, and it’s not from a restaurant, which is very cool. And we have an urban farm, which we try to incorporate into our meals as well. Nobody has to be hungry,” Howie said.
Howie grew up in Anacostia and has watched as each chapter of its complicated story unfold. The neighborhood has one of the best views of the U.S. Capitol in the city and is the place to watch fireworks over the National Mall. It is known for its food, style, hip-hop and history – it was home to abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass. But the early 1980s, when a woman named Hannah Hawkins started providing hot meals from her apartment to neighborhood children as well as giving them clean clothing and lessons (an effort that would soon become Children of Mine), she did so to a backdrop of drugs, drive-by shootings and police helicopters.
“When I tell you I grew up here, I was here. I was a paper boy," said Howie.
“When Children of Mine got started 38 years ago, this neighborhood was really, really tough. But no matter what was going on, this organization stood. We have been there, quietly impacting families starting with the child at the center, then their parents, then the community, working to strengthen that circle from the inside out, and the outside in,” Howie said. “When I tell you I grew up here, I was here. I was a paper boy. All of the transitions, all of the changes, I’ve been here for them. To see Starbucks come to the neighborhood, that’s a pretty big deal.”
In just a few short months, Shumate and Howie – who share a passion for service and community building – have already formed an energetic and formidable team. A team of neighbors.
“Why does any of this matter? For us, it’s about love,” Howie said. “No matter where people come from, what walk of life, background, color or geography, love is what binds a community and makes it strong. We don’t have to always agree or even get along, but when I think of the why behind it all? I’ve watched how showing love on a consistent basis can take a person who is hostile or angry and change their very nature. Genuine love will change you. That’s the real why, is to show and promote genuine love so we will have the community we’re all aiming for.”
You Grow Girl!: photos by Joshua Trujillo
1Hood Media: photos by Vernon Young
Children of Mine: photos by Ting Chen