Ask the young people who are suffering from economic inequity and societal trauma for their ideas to solve the problems they face. Tap into their brilliance, creativity, depth and vitality to solve the problems they struggle with every day. Nurture them with mentoring and coaching. Give them access to the tools they need to succeed. Provide them with a place to collaborate and create. Enter Youth Impact HUB Oakland’s People’s Pitch. Glorious!
“Young people of color who have direct experience with what is not working in our current economy are our greatest asset.”
—Gino Pastori-Ng, Co-founder and Co-Director of Youth SEED
The People’s Pitch was held on May 23 at Impact HUB Oakland, 2323 Broadway. Explosively creative, energetic, positive, brilliant, organic, collaborative, human and real entrepreneurship. And there wasn’t a damn suit in the room. Refreshing.
“Many young people live on the margins of society, and in order to survive they have to be innovative. When you give young people the opportunity to be creative, the ideas they’re innovating are coming
from their resiliency. By giving these entrepreneurs a platform, they can take their life experiences and find innovative solutions for problems that are affecting them. These young people haven’t given up amidst the tragedies they have experienced throughout their lives and they’re using their resiliency to help the community.”
—Galen Silvestri, Co-founder and Executive Director, United Roots
Nine teams of young social entrepreneurs, ages 16-24, from the Youth Hub Fellowship Program—a yearlong social entrepreneurship training and co-working program that is the offspring of Youth SEED and United Roots’ partnership—presented their proposals for social enterprises to create equity in low-income communities.
“It was humbling and inspiring. The wonderful thing about these entrepreneurs is that they believe that anything is possible, and to solve the problems we’re facing requires believing that anything is possible. I learned so much from these young people. I learned way more than I was able to contribute. I already plan to participate again next year.”
—Edward L. Quevedo, J.D., Business Review Panel, Youth Impact HUB Oakland’s People’s Pitch/Director of Mills College’sCenter for Socially Responsible Business/Research Affiliate at Institute for the Future Economy
The individuals pitching were a diverse group, with Mills College, UC Berkeley and Stanford graduates in the mix. The entrepreneurs’ individualities shone through with their business ideas. Beautiful collaboration and enthusiastic support of one another’s success made the Pitch event a rich experience. Again, a rarity in the entrepreneurship and innovation realms. This is world changing, and these youth social entrepreneurs are leading the way. They are shining examples of the way to get things done, utilizing human-based entrepreneurship and innovation, with unsoiled thinking and true collaboration. The key is self-expression throughout the process of growing an enterprise designed to benefit people, the environment and the local economy.
It Takes an Entire Village to Raise an Entrepreneur
The people behind Youth Impact Hub Oakland—Konda Mason, founder and CEO of Impact Hub Oakland, Gino Pastori-
Ng and aManda Greene, co-founders and co-directors of Youth SEED, and Galen Silvestri, co-founder and Executive Director of United Roots—lead by their shining examples. While there are seventy Impact HUBs throughout the world, Youth Impact HUB Oakland is the first collaboration of its sort with the intention to replicate the model at the other Impact Hubs.
“We’re on the proud cutting-edge of the Future Economy…of the Now Economy. Show up fearlessly and brave and know that you hold the power.”
—Konda Mason, Founder and CEO, Impact Hub Oakland
Impact Hub Oakland, a B Corporation, is a member-based co-working space and event venue for entrepreneurs creating positive impact. Youth SEED (Young Social Entrepreneurship for Equitable Development) supports the development of community-led social enterprises by providing training, resources and investment to young innovators who traditionally face barriers to economic opportunities. And United Roots—a nonprofit organization and Oaklands first “green” youth art and media center—enables disenfranchised youth to engage with the green economy, cultural healing, performing arts, digital media and technology in ways that educate, empower, inspire and transform lives.
“[Youth Impact Hub] is the answer to the question, ‘How can businesses and nonprofits engage youth in social entrepreneurship?’ Youth Impact Hub Oakland is creating a new type of relationship between nonprofits and businesses.”
—Galen Silvestri, Co-founder and Executive Director, United Roots
Each organization needed more resources than they possessed individually, so they came together and formed Youth Impact Hub Oakland. For example, Youth SEED needed a house for their organization, so United Roots provided them with a place. United Roots needed facilitators and mentors that could offer social entrepreneurship training, and the vision to transform their storefront community center into a co-working office space for youth entrepreneurs, so Youth SEED provided the facilitators and mentors andImpact Hub Oakland provided the co-working space model.
“I’m really impressed with Youth SEED and the Youth Impact Hub model. The program is vital. To be able to reach people at a pivotal time in their lives and provide excellent options, a set of mentors and peers to resonate with and get feedback from, is invaluable. It’s easy to get a lot of naysayers. A support network helps accelerate the idea. I’m happy that this exists and that it is thriving.”
—Chris Mann, CEO, Guayaki
And then there was the financial support. The following organizations generously contributed to help make the Youth Impact Hub Fellowship and People’s Pitch possible: Numi Organic Tea;Guayakí Yerba Mate; Nutiva; ALTER ECO; Adobe; Telestream,Inc.; Jonas Family Foundation; Small Planet Fund; Barb Reynolds; Clif Bar Family Foundation; thePG&E Foundation; and the Superbowl 50 Host Committee.
“Innovation is not just about tech; it can help us solve social problems, too. Programs like the Youth Impact HUB and their People’s Pitch event are the very catalysts we are seeking to invest in because they will leave a legacy of impact well after the Super Bowl is played.”
—Jason Trimiew, Vice President, Community Relations, Super Bowl 50 Host Committee
Mercer—Accountable Hip Hop
Roy Terry, Jr. and Shayne Johnson createdMercer, a hip-hop production company with a mission to neutralize the violence, sexism, and materialism so prevalent in today’s hip hop. They want to get back to the roots of hip-hop (think “Tupac”), hip-hop featuring “the new school with the old school notion that we use music to uplift and educate,” said Roy, “hip-hop that uplifts women and conveys an intrinsic sense of self-worth.”
“Hip-hop is not doing its job and being accountable. We live in a world of monkey see, monkey do. Get an education. Listen to Tupac. We have a world full of people who degrade women. We have a world full of violence. We need to build curriculum for schools. It’s hard to bring positivity to hip-hop. We’re immersed in sex, violence. We don’t want to be thugs. Positive music is overlooked so much. It’s up to us to correct this problem.”
—Roy Terry, Jr., Founder of Mercer
Mercer began with four guys who had a rap group in high school. Roy’s partner, Shayne, was one of these guys and was eager to join Roy on his quest. The Youth Impact Hub fellowship opportunity came to Roy during a dark time in his life. He
had just been arrested and wasn’t working. “I needed to re-motivate myself,” said Roy.
“I ran into Youth Impact HUB at the right time. I was initiated in such a special way …”
The artists who sign with Mercer will need to sign an agreement to abide by Mercer’s vision of hip-hop that elevates society. Lamont Thompson and Zollie Fears, who are not Youth Impact Hub fellows, are also members of Mercer.
The Biz Stoop—From Responders to Activators
Desiré Johnson and Erin Clark founded The Biz Stoop to support black youth and teach them their rights, good self-care, and how to pursue opportunities. The Biz Stoop provides gentle immersion into the work world. They work quietly and privately to help black youth. Desiré explained, “Predatory interests won’t allow us to go in full [marketing mode]. For the security and protection of the black youth, The Biz Stoopsafeguards its multiple facets.”
“I was fortunate enough to follow up on opportunities. I had enough courage and emotional support and caring. It’s frightening for the black youth to look for work. You don’t know who you’re going to meet on the other side of the door. This fear comes from fatalism … they distance themselves. They say, ‘I’m never going to go there.’ It’s self sabotage. They give up, lose faith, lose hope. We don’t think we’re going to live. Sixteen was my cut-off time.”
—Desiré Simone Johnson, Cofounder, The Biz Stoop
A recent Mills graduate, Desiré said, “I needed a program to take me through the trauma into healing, into self-activation. I needed structure, timelines, due dates, a creative space that was Oakland specific.”
“I loved reading. I listened. I was a good listener. I was introspective. I asked myself, ‘What am I making in the world?’ I read my own poems and understood that I am more than what’s been done to me. It’s cyclical. I reached the point where I knew that I didn’t want to be in the cycle anymore.”
When Desiré was thirteen, she read God Don’t Like Ugly by Mary Monroe. “It was almost my life to a T,” she said. “No father and the men filling that role were abusers. At a certain point, you realize, ‘This is not normal.’ I was just a responder in life. I didn’t get to activate. Black children are not granted innocence. We get forced into adulthood.” The Biz Stoop takes these kids and transforms them from responders to activators.
Fuerza Indigena—Indigenous Blouses with a Mission
In addition to her full-time job at American Friends Service Committee, Linda Sanchez founded Fuerza Indigena, an indigenous women-run social enterprise. She became aware of Youth Impact Hub at a United Roots event that mentioned Youth SEED. “I went for it,” she said. “Youth Impact Hub pushed me to set the time, be disciplined. A lot of the fellows are full-time students, work full time, and/or already have kids.”
“I want to show the beauty and complexity of indigenous cultures.”—Linda Sanchez, Founder, Fuerza Indigena
Linda, a Zapotec from Oaxaca, Mexico, grew up in Orange County but moved to the Bay Area in order to attend UC Berkeley, where she received her BA degree in May 2014. Her business partner, Alejandra, 15, is an indigenous Mam from Guatemala and is currently attending high school and interning with 67 Sueños.
“Youth SEED was very nurturing and loving. I made some great friends. My mentors and peers were visionaries. I never had a moment of doubt. It was empowering seeing my peers being empowered and receiving the tools to uplift themselves.”
Linda hopes to create environmental cultural revitalization for the indigenous community. She watched her mom and aunt struggle to make ends meet. She realized that indigenous women have the skills, but don’t know how to capitalize on them. Last, but not least, Linda hopes that Fuerza Indigena creates exposure to the community and builds greater awareness of indigenous cultures. Sell a beautifully stitched organic cotton blouse and people will know a little bit more about the culture.
Plus 6 More …
Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to talk to all nine teams of dynamic entrepreneurs. But just to give you an idea …
TJ Ransom and Jose Martinez’s UpBeat Games Oakland, whose first game, LUCID, is to help young people work through grief, along with a curriculum component for the schools.
Isaiah Teague’s goDDli a worker-owned cooperative selling eco-friendly apparel designed with positive and inspirational messages for “a sense of self.” Isaiah said, “My passion is fashion to help people grow in spiritual knowledge. There is so much hurt. I plan on being original and truthful with my business.”
8 Feet Tall Promotions, founded by Ajman Thrower, is already well on its way with some significant clients. It’s vision is to provide professional promotional services at discounted rates in order to help take ideas and artists to the next level … to help them make money from their own ideas … to build these Latino and blacks in the surrounding communities up. The company got its name because it began with eight people helping Oakland to feel 8 feet tall by spreading ideas and supporting its artists.
Merry Stem’s Dasha Savage and JessicaSarmiento are on a mission to mend the disconnect between food and community, by encouraging and teaching residents to each grow a vegetable to share with their other neighbors, a type of barter system. The ultimate goal is for the community to get to know their food and their neighbors better. During their pitch, Dasha said, “I was an inner-city fat kid. Our modern life has wrenched us away from what it means to be fundamentally human. It’s hard to eat right when you don’t have a stove or an oven in your kitchen.”
United Roots Media is being launched by Quayshawn Presley and Malik Hardcastle as an “earned income strategy”for United Roots. Youth graduates of United Roots’ advanced training in media arts offer a variety of services through United Roots media. In response to their pitch, panel member Edward Quevedo said, “My life has changed because of your presentation.”
Daisy Ozim’s Resilient Wellness and 13thGoddess. Daisy created Resilient Wellness—a health education program for communities of color—and 13th Goddess, an environmentally friendly shoe line catering to women with longer soles. Resilient Wellness will provide “culturally relevant mental health services” to help people of color deprogram from “traumatic slave syndrome and the legacy of colonization.”
Each team pitched to a panel of local community leaders for $1000 in seed funding provided byThe Pollination Project, which funds “ordinary people doing extraordinary things…every day in every corner of the world.”
All nine teams received seed money, with five of the teams receiving it “unconditionally”—they were ready to receive the money immediately—and four receiving it “conditionally,” i.e. based on their ability to address feedback from the panel.BLING, a youth philanthropy internship group “committed to supporting other youth and their ideas to create social change in their schools and communities,” awarded an additional $2,000 to be shared among three teams.
People’s Pitch was rowdy and fun, too. The pitches were divided into three groups and, in between each group, there was seriously, outrageously, magnificent cultural entertainment. Why aren’t all entrepreneurial events this much fun? For example, there were live cultural performances from Young, Gifted and Black, Jax, and DJ Adamah. Tamales La Oaxaqueña made the day even more delicious. And a marketplace of local entrepreneurs—which included 67 Sueños, DetermiNation Media Group, and Mandela Marketplace, RYSE and The Real Oakland—rounded out the energy.
Gino Pastori-Ng, co-founder and co-director of Youth SEED, wraps it up perfectly:
“My motivation for creating Youth SEED is based on my experience growing up in Oakland and witnessing my most creative and innovative peers slip through the cracks. There was a severe lack of opportunities for them to engage in their community in a meaningful way, and many of them ended up dropping out of school and becoming entrenched in the criminal justice system. No one was asking them what they wanted to create in the community or providing any resources to make it happen. I’m passionate about social entrepreneurship as a tool to engage youth in low-income communities because it combines the best of activism and business. It addressees the reality of economic inequality and the need to generate revenue, while also being critical about the status quo to ensure that we are only creating businesses and organizations that support people and the planet.
“The youth we work with are the most brilliant people I know. They have been through extreme adversity, yet they are taking risks to pursue their visions for a more equitable economy. Their ideas are simultaneously simple and revolutionary. Their lived experience has provided them with a critical lens, which they are using to re-imagine their communities. They are the leaders of an emerging, new economy, and the Youth Impact HUB is a platform to connect them to the network and resources needed to implement their collective vision.”
What more is there to say?