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Spotlight: Houston Social Justice Learning Institute’s Urban Scholars Program

The Urban Scholars program came to Houston in 2018 in partnership with the local My Brother’s Keeper chapter, seeking to help youth of color achieve not only academic and career success, but instill a commitment to community service.

Originally founded for Black males, the program now includes young ladies too, and is the signature initiative of the Social Justice Learning Institute (SJLI) which formed in 2011 in Los Angeles. Thus, long before the Summer of George Floyd or even the horrific deaths of Tamir Rice and Travon Martin, the SJLI was fighting for social and educational racial equity, for Black and Brown youth.

Urban Scholars is currently in four HISD schools (Attucks and Clifton middle schools and Sam Houston and Wheatley high school), but hopes to expand.

The Defender recently spoke with Jarett Fields, SJLI’s Director of Educational Equity Programs, about Urban Scholars.

What is the Social Justice Learning Institute?

FIELDS: The social justice learning Institute is a nonprofit that was started in Los Angeles, California by Dr. D’Artagnan Scorza. The work of the SJLI was based on his dissertation at UCLA.

How did the SJLI find its way to Houston?

FIELDS: The SJLI started as a Black Male Youth Academy. One of the things that Dr. Scorza had in mind was really a way to empower communities through education. For him that meant helping young, Black men matriculate through both middle and high school and onto post-secondary success. Today the SJLI has three arms. We empower communities through education, health and policy advocacy.

Tell us about Urban Scholars

FIELDS: The Urban Scholars program which works with 6th – 12th graders, is run just like a normal class. It may be a student’s third, fourth period class. We have a curriculum really designed to engage middle and high school students into college level information, college level discussions, and eventually research on the path to understanding not only what it takes to be a success in a career and in college, but also how to empower their communities, how to be change agents in their communities.

So, it’s not simply an academic enhancement program

FIELDS: Our students really engage in learning about their community for the sake of being positive change in their community. We do want students to be committed to academic excellence. The program in and of itself is not just an academic program, though. A lot of our students will grow through social, emotional learning. A lot of our students will receive wrap-around services and support from both us and partnership with everything from learning how to get driver’s licenses, bus tickets, learning about their community, different organizations. They’ll be encouraged to volunteer. There’ll be exposed, not just to college tours, but they’ll be exposed to career opportunities and a number of things that really engage them not just in terms of doing well in school, but in the community in terms of trying to learn and identify ways that the community can change for the better and how they can be a part of it.

What’s the driving force behind the program?

FIELDS: The Urban Scholars program is funded through the Houston Health Department. We’re one of the My Brother’s Keepers initiatives. In Houston, just like places around the country, we see young Black men who even upon their success sometimes do not necessarily have the types of options that others have because of oppressive factors, because of neighborhood factors. We see numbers that are very concerning in terms of young Black men and their contact with law enforcement, young Black men and their opportunities dealing with employment. What we’ve done in terms of identifying the need here in Houston is think about how we can fit into that, how we can change the trajectory of young Black men, young LatinX men, into becoming change agents, positive folks in their community. And we’re looking to expand to more HISD schools and to enter Ft. Bend ISD.

What attracted you to this initiative?

FIELDS: I absolutely love my job. I love working with young kids. I love working with young men. I’m by trade, a historian and someone who’s worked in college access programs. I’ve worked as an assistant principal before and what I get to do at the Social Justice Learning Institute in terms of inspiring young men to build relationships, inspiring school leaders and partners to really work with our program, to create a trajectory for success that we just have not seen. And that is not common. And for me, the inspiration and the fire from my work comes from believing that our program not only can have a specific impact on the city of Houston, but that the young men and the young ladies that we work with will come back and be the leaders of this city. That’s why I do this work.

Do you have any program success stories that come to mind immediately?

FIELDS: Definitely. One of our students, a young man who just graduated from Wheatley High School, Toderick Hollis. He’s going to Lamar University in the fall. This young man played basketball, just a really great student at Phyllis Wheatley. Two days before their graduation, we came to visit his school, gave him and other Urban Scholars participants gift baskets. Over the summer, he was going to sit on a panel for our current seniors to help them understand what was it like for him going through school, applying for schools. So, on the day that he sat on the panel, we surprised him with a gift that blew his mind. We have partnerships with different organizations. One of those partnerships is Nike and surprised him with a pair of Air Jordan Concord 11s after he had given this presentation about how hard he had worked. His mother was in tears. And after that presentation, he came up to me and said, “When I graduate from college, I want to come back and work for the Urban Scholars program.”

How can people support the program?

FIELDS: The first thing they can do is go to, our website, and they’ll find a number of different ways. One, you can donate money. For example, during Winter Storm Uri, one of the things that we did was make phone calls to all of our students, offered a lot of our families in the program gift cards to grocery stores. So, you can donate as an individual. You can volunteer. We had a summer program we just finished, where we’re looking for people who can expose our students to career opportunities, apprenticeships, larger community networks. Also, if you’re a nonprofit, we definitely look at organizations whose mission align with ours so we can leverage some of the skills, some of the access to information and the expertise of organizations who have services that we may not be able to offer our students. We also looking for advisory board members.

Apple launches Today at Apple Creative Studios to provide opportunities to young creatives

Apple today announced Today at Apple Creative Studios, a global initiative that will provide career-building mentorship, professional industry skills training, creative resources, and access to Apple’s full product lineup of iPhone, iPad, and Mac to underrepresented communities across the globe. Creative Studios will launch first in Los Angeles and Beijing, followed by Bangkok, London, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. later this year. In each city, Apple will work hand-in-hand with nonprofit community organizations to connect youth with mentors and established artists.

Today at Apple Creative Studios programming will hone creative passion in areas such as music, film, photography, and art and design, and will be available to young people who face barriers to meaningful artistic education. Across eight to 12 weeks of programming, mentors — in collaboration with Apple and community partners — will take participants through a curriculum of hands-on sessions, insider industry knowledge, and provide ongoing feedback on participants’ creative projects. Alongside developing creative skills, our mentors and community partners will nurture participants’ self-expression and encourage them to spark social change within their own communities. At the end of programming, Apple will host a celebration and showcase of participants’ final works in their local Apple Store location or within the community.
“Creativity and access to education are core values for Apple, so we are absolutely thrilled to kick off Today at Apple Creative Studios in Los Angeles and Beijing and to bring this meaningful program to several more cities this year,” said Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s senior vice president of Retail + People. “Building on our long history of using stores as a venue to host local artists to educate and inspire, Creative Studios is one more way we’re providing free arts education to those who need it most.”
Today at Apple will also offer public sessions open to anyone, led by the inspiring artists who are providing mentorship experiences to the young participants in Today at Apple Creative Studios. Everyone is invited to register for these sessions at

Today at Apple Creative Studios – LA

Today at Apple Creative Studios – LA focuses on developing the talents of young musicians. Working with the Music Forward Foundation and Inner-City Arts and Social Justice Learning Institute, Creative Studios LA will amplify up-and-coming talents’ stories over nine weeks of free programming where participants will learn creative direction, writing, and production. Participants will create a visual album — called “LA Love Letter” — that hones their new skills to share their stories through music, design, and imagery all by using iPad, Apple Pencil, Beats headphones, and iPhone, as well as GarageBand, Procreate, Notes, and the Camera app.
The young creatives will have the guidance and mentorship from Grammy Award-winning producer Larrance “Rance” Dopson, documentary photographer and filmmaker Bethany Mollenkof, and Apple Music’s Global Editorial Head of Hip-Hop and R&B Ebro Darden, along with special one-off sessions taught by additional artists. Creative Studios LA will also give participants unprecedented access to Apple Music creatives and executives like Zane Lowe during its Industry Week, where they can ask experts for advice to take their journey further.
“Music Forward aims to transform young lives by breaking barriers of gender, poverty, and race, and bridging them to pathways of success,” said Nurit Smith, Music Forward Foundation’s executive director. “Apple shares our commitment to empowering diverse voices in the creative arts and we are proud to work hand-in-hand on Today at Apple Creative Studios – LA to spark creative discovery, chart careers, and provide an opportunity to Los Angeles youth.”
Social justice in the spotlight during UCLA Undergraduate Research Week

An examination of how a museum exhibition that told the stories of HIV-positive people around the world through photographs they took of their daily lives affected people’s attitudes about HIV. An assessment of the effectiveness of a Los Angeles-area non-profit as it tries to empower Black and Latina girls to enact social change through research, training and community mobilization.

They were just two topics that UCLA students presented at Undergraduate Research Week, the largest undergraduate conference on campus. The conference was held virtually for the second consecutive year at the end of May. The event is produced by the undergraduate research centers in collaboration with UCLA Library, the division of undergraduate education and alumni affairs, and this year featured nearly 800 students who presented research posters, gave prerecorded talks about their projects, and participated in live presentation sessions.

The studies of the impact of the Fowler Museum at UCLA’s presentation of “Through Positive Eyes” and the Social Justice Learning Institute’s efforts in Inglewood were part of a new showcase for community-engaged and social justice research this year. Thirty-eight students presented their original research projects in live and prerecorded presentations as part of the community engagement and social justice showcase.

“UCLA students are doing research with community partners, through academic departments and the Center for Community Engagement, which results in a valuable co-creation of knowledge between students and community partners,” said Whitney Arnold, director of the Undergraduate Research Center–Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. Arnold said that the event organizers wanted to leverage the work students are already doing with community partners and social justice.

“Many UCLA students’ research projects focus on social justice,” Arnold said, “and we wanted to highlight student projects and voices that identify and research social inequities and also propose ideas for change.”

In community-engaged research, students work with partners from local community organizations such as nonprofits to conduct research that will be helpful to the organization and the people they serve.

Senior world arts and cultures and political science major Karina Zysman worked with the UCLA Art and Global Health Center to research “Through Positive Eyes.” The exhibit ran from August 2019 through February 2020 with the intention of destigmatizing HIV and AIDS by providing a humanizing look at people living with the disease.

Zysman studied the comments people wrote down after viewing the exhibit to determine what kind of impact the exhibit had on them. She found that people felt compassion and a common humanity toward the individuals in the exhibit, demonstrating how powerful the arts can be in inspiring empathy.

“The emerging findings show this cathartic process, where people are able to relate and some sort of preconceived HIV-related stigma that they might have had is starting to decrease,” she said. “We can leverage the arts and use the community and provide a space for them to amplify their own voices in the research that’s emerging.”

Zysman said that community-engaged research should be the model for most research.

“This is inviting the community to be active participants in the research that’s emerging about themselves. It’s removing that power dynamic that exists in research,” Zysman said. “It’s removing the sterility that exists in research, and instead it’s replacing it with humanity.”

At the showcase, every student from the community engagement and social change minor capstone research course presented his or her research. The two-quarter course was taught by Bemmy Maharramli, associate director of strategic initiatives at the Center for Community Engagement. Working with community organizations for two quarters on a research project gives students valuable professional experience, Maharramli said, such as participating in strategy sessions, learning to communicate professionally with colleagues, and listening to their needs.

One of Maharramli’s students was senior world arts and cultures major Hanna Young, who worked with the Social Justice Learning Institute in Inglewood. (Young also co-authored the Through Positive Eyes research project with Zysman). The institute, which was founded by alumnus D’Artagnan Scorza, is looking to expand its programming to support young women of color in addition to men, so Young did an analysis of other female empowerment programs, researched mental health interventions for women of color, and developed interview questions for engaging with community members.

Young said her goal was not to tell the people at the institute what steps they should take, but rather listen to the perspectives of the community members about what they want and provide staff the information to make their own decisions about what would work best for them.

“Central to this research is making sure that community members are asserting themselves, engaging with personal agency and deciding what would suit them best,” Young said. “The success of this kind of program really comes from, are the community members eager and participating in it? Ultimately, they make that decision, not me.”

When we study today’s most critical issues, from global health to climate change, research needs to be in partnership with the communities most affected, Maharramli and the students said.

“To have more effective solutions to these challenges we have to be in conversation with the people who are most impacted,” Maharramli said. “That’s how we’ll contribute as a university to the most innovative and effective solutions.”

Gardens Project in Inglewood Helps Promote Healthy Eating!

INGLEWOOD — The Social Justice Learning Institute has helped to install 100 gardens to make fresh food more available.

“100 Seeds of Change was an idea to build 100 Gardens in Inglewood and the surrounding area,” said Nicole Steele, the programs manager who came up with the idea. “Just in the idea that if we could build 100 gardens, if we got 100 little sparks lit, then maybe that could set ablaze to this kind of healthy eating, active living lifestyle in our city.”

They met that goal about two years ago by building gardens in schools, partnering with homeowners, and by building community gardens including the Queen Park Learning Garden in Inglewood.

“When we installed Queen Park, we wanted to make sure that it was a place where people could come and learn that they could grow food themselves,” Steele said.

“More importantly than just giving people food, we have to educate people and give them the experience to understand and learn where food comes from and how food is grown,” said volunteer gardener Vern Nishina.

The Queen Park Learning Garden welcomes any and everyone to come and harvest and participate in the upkeep of the garden, all for free. The Social Justice Learning Institute provides seeds and plants and volunteers also donate produce of their own.

“I feel like it’s important to have good community gardens within our community in order to provide healthy vegetables, fruits and natural herbs,” said Inglewood resident and volunteer gardener Jamelle Fortuné Turner.

“It probably seems like something small but it sets an example for children and it provides a hub for older people to come and just be amongst nature and amongst people that they can talk to,” Steele said.

Due to COVID, the park and garden area had been closed for some time, but Queen Park Learning Garden is now back open and available to the community 24/7. You’ll find Steele in the garden on Tuesday mornings and some weekend days or evenings.

“Not just because of COVID, but there’s a lot going on in the world, right?” said Steele. “We need to be able to be among the community in a safe place and I thought that opening this park back up would be a great way to do that.”

“Inglewood is a great community to live in and to be a part of,” Fortuné Turner said. “I feel like community gardens really capture the essence of how community shows up, what community is and how to sustain the community.”

The Queen Park Learning Garden is located at 652 E. Queen St. Inglewood, CA 90301.

Kaiser Permanente Commits $1 Million to Promote Racial Equity in Southern California

Kaiser Permanente, which is the nation’s largest integrated, nonprofit healthcare system and which operates regional headquarters in Pasadena, announced late last week it has awarded $8.15 million to support 40 nonprofit and community-based organizations across the nation whose programs address systemic racism and its accompanying trauma on individuals and communities of color.

“As we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I hope Kaiser Permanente is one of many voices plainly saying that there is much, much work still to be done to realize Dr. King’s ideal of an equitable society that guarantees every individual the opportunity to thrive,” said Greg A. Adams, Kaiser Permanente’s chairman and CEO.

“I am encouraged as I see what progress is possible through organization, activism and advocacy – and I want our support to enable future generations to follow that path to create change,” Adams said.

According to a statement issued by Kaiser, 10 organizations in Southern California will receive $1 million as part of a $25 million commitment Kaiser Permanente announced in June to promote health equity and break the cycle of racism-driven stresses that lead to poor health outcomes for its communities. Kaiser Permanente, whose Southern California Region is headquartered in Pasadena, serves 4.7 million members in Southern California.

The groups receiving grant funding in Southern California are: Community Health Councils, Inc., Los Angeles; InnerCity Struggle, Los Angeles; African American Leadership Organization, San Fernando Valley; BLU Educational Foundation, San Bernardino; Cal State University, Dominguez Hills; Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement, San Bernardino; Latino Center for Prevention & Action in Health and Welfare, doing business as Latino Health Access, Santa Ana; Social Justice Learning Institute, Inglewood; Partnership for the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, Ventura; and Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans, San Diego.

“It’s important for us to take strong action to stop the economic, physical, psychological, and social impacts of inequity and systemic racism – including discriminatory policies and practices – so that we can create healthier communities where everybody, regardless of their race, ethnic background or skin color can feel safe and thrive,” said Julie Miller-Phipps, president of Kaiser Permanente Southern California and Hawaii, Health Plan and Hospitals.

“This is why Kaiser Permanente is pledging significant funding to help achieve an end to systemic racism and break the cycles of stress and trauma that can lead to poor health outcomes,” said Miler-Phipps.

With input from a panel of national racial justice and trauma experts, Kaiser Permanente said it will develop a formal evaluation plan for the grants it has awarded to track and measure the initiative’s overall progress.

Social Justice Learning Institute Receives $50K Grant from Barnes & Thornburg Racial and Social Justice Foundation

As part of the launch of the Barnes & Thornburg Racial and Social Justice Foundation, the firm’s lawyers and staff have donated more than $200,000 to promote, advocate and effect racial and social justice in the firm’s local communities.

The foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, was established in 2020 with financial support coming entirely through personal donations from the lawyers and staff in each of the firm’s 19 offices. To start, four organizations have received $50,000 each in grants in four of Barnes & Thornburg’s markets – Atlanta, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Minneapolis. As the foundation continues to grow in 2021, additional nonprofits and markets will be added to the mix.

“It’s time to not just speak out against racial and social injustices, but to translate those words into meaningful and tangible actions and commitments,” said Connie Lahn, the Racial and Social Justice Foundation president and managing partner of Barnes & Thornburg’s Minneapolis office. “As we reach the end of this challenging year, we’re proud to have put a stake in the ground, and we look forward to working with the amazing nonprofits we’ve selected. Their work inspires us to be better, and we hope with our support they can have an even greater impact in our communities.”

‘No Gift Too Small’

The firm has undertaken fundraising efforts driven by the firm’s employees to generate broad participation under the mantra “no gift is too small.” The $50,000 grants were presented this month to the following organizations:

In addition to Lahn, who serves as president, Barnes & Thornburg’s Racial and Social Justice Foundation’s board members are Allen Baum, partner-in-charge of the Raleigh office; Michael Carrillo, managing partner of the Chicago office; and Roscoe Howard, managing partner of the Washington, D.C., office. Ex officio members are Steven Merkel, chief operating officer and the foundation’s treasurer, Robert Grand, firm managing partner, and Dawn Rosemond, firm diversity partner.

The foundation will work hand in hand with Barnes & Thornburg’s Racial Justice Committee, which is tasked with continually looking at how the firm works to address racial justice, both externally and internally.

In addition to the foundation’s grants, Barnes & Thornburg attorneys plan to contribute time and professional experience in support of the above organizations.

“We are grateful to contribute to organizations like these that have excellent track records of promoting equality, advancement and justice for people of color in our communities, said Grand, managing partner of Barnes & Thornburg. “These organizations, when properly funded, can have a profound impact on our society and we are looking forward to leveraging the foundation as a catalyst to support and advocate for these incredible nonprofits.”

To choose grantees, the foundation employed a rigorous scoring system to vet charitable organizations against specific criteria that align with its mission and goals.

With more than 700 attorneys and other legal professionals, Barnes & Thornburg is one of the largest law firms in the country. The firm serves clients worldwide from offices in Atlanta, California, Chicago, Delaware, Indiana, Michigan, Minneapolis, New York, Ohio, Raleigh, Salt Lake City, Texas and Washington, D.C. For more information, visit us online at or on Twitter @BTLawNews

Los Angeles Rams Players Donate to Local Social Justice Nonprofits

In honor of “Giving Tuesday,” the Los Angeles Rams players are awarding $750,000 to 25 non-profits focused on social justice across the greater Los Angeles region.

Following numerous tragic events this past year, including the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, Rams players came together to discuss how they could help address injustices that continue to plague society. Focused on long-term, systemic change, the players decided to pool resources together to financially support organizations who are doing this critical work.

The Rams invited 25 social justice non-profits to share with the players information about their work, those they serve and how the players could be of the greatest assistance. After listening and learning, the players rewarded each organization with a donation ranging from $20,000 to $50,000.

MICHAEL BROCKERS, JOHNNY HEKKER, SEBASTIAN JOSEPH-DAY and ANDREW WHITWORTH helped lead the process, participating in virtual conversations with the organizations and determining how to allocate the funds.

“As a leader on this team, it was important to me to be part of these conversations,” said Brockers. “My teammates and I are very aware of the social injustices that continue to occur, and we made a decision to become actively involved in helping to be part of the change that is desperately needed. It was awesome to hear from so many different leaders and non-profits that are putting the work in to make real change and I’m honored to support them.”

“In my 15 years in the NFL, this has definitely been one of the most inspiring things that I have had the opportunity to be part of,” said Whitworth. “It was an amazing process that allowed us to learn about a variety of non-profits working across Los Angeles to positively impact lives and advance social justice. The chance to hear directly from them on how we could help left us both humbled and motivated. On behalf of my teammates, we thank them for their daily passion and commitment to drive equity and are proud to support their important work.”

Below are the 25 recipient non-profit organizations who are working to address education inequities, youth justice, community-police relations and anti-recidivism as well as providing access to mentors and basic human needs including housing and food.

A Place Called Home – ($50K recipient) – A Place Called Home’s mission is to provide a safe, nurturing environment with proven programs in arts, education and wellness for the young people in South Central Los Angeles to help them improve their economic conditions and develop healthy, fulfilling and purposeful lives.

Brotherhood Crusade – ($50K recipient) Brotherhood Crusade is a 50-year-old grassroots organization with a vision of improving quality of life and meeting the unmet needs of low-income, underserved, under-represented and disenfranchised individuals. Their mission is to remove and/or help individuals overcome the barriers that deter their pursuit of success in life and facilitate opportunities for a better quality of life by effectuating improved health & wellness, facilitating academic success, promoting personal, social & economic growth, providing access to artistic excellence & cultural awareness, increasing financial literacy and building community agencies & institutions.

College Track – ($50K recipient) College Track’s mission is to equip their 800+ Watts, Boyle Heights and Crenshaw students confronting systemic barriers to earn a bachelor’s degree in pursuit of a life of opportunity, choice, and power. College Track exists because they know that while talent is equally distributed, educational access is not.

Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) – ($50K recipient) Heart of Los Angeles provides underserved youth with free, exceptional after school programs in academics, arts and athletics within a nurturing environment, empowering them to develop their potential, pursue their education and strengthen their communities.

Homeboy Industries – ($50k recipient) Homeboy Industries’ mission is to provide hope, training and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated individuals, allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of the community. They do this by providing therapeutic re-entry programming that offers tenderness, compassion, kinship and opportunities for transformation.

SoLa I Can Foundation – ($50k recipient) – The SoLa I Can Foundation, the 501(c)3 nonprofit affiliate of SoLa Impact, is built on a simple premise: if you can see it, you can be it. SoLa works to improve the lives of South LA residents and end intergenerational poverty through access to educational, technological, and economic opportunities. They work towards uplifting underserved Black and Latinx communities by providing career development, technology education, financial literacy, college readiness and scholarships.

Anti-Recidivism Coalition – ($40K recipient) – The Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) works to end mass incarceration in California. To ensure our communities are safe, healthy, and whole, ARC empowers formerly and currently incarcerated people to thrive by providing a support network, comprehensive reentry services, and opportunities to advocate for policy change. Through their grassroots policy advocacy, they are dedicated to transforming the criminal justice system so that it is more just and equitable for all people.

Liberty Hill Foundation – ($40K recipient) – For 44 years, Liberty Hill has supported grassroots community organizing in Los Angeles, working to advance social justice. Liberty Hill envisions a society built on social justice in which all people have a powerful voice, including those currently shutout of democracy and those who are denied opportunity because they are poor, because of their skin color, because of their gender or sexual orientation, because of where they live or because of where they were born.

Operation Progress – ($30K recipient) – Operation Progress’ mission is to empower underserved youth to become educated, ethical, and productive adults who reach their full potential and positively contribute to society. OP Scholars are accepted in the 3rd or 4th grade and are supported through college. Operation Progress is located in the heart of Watts and serves families from Nickerson Gardens, Jordan Downs, Imperial Courts, Gonzaque Village, Compton and South LA. OP Scholars are also paired with mentors from LAPD to provide support, safety, and to build trust in the police-community relationship.

Partnership for Los Angeles Schools – ($30K recipient) – The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools is an independent non-profit working alongside the Los Angeles Unified School District since 2008 to manage and support historically under-resourced public schools in Watts, South LA and Boyle Heights in an effort to close achievement gaps and drive education equity. In addition to accelerating student academic achievement and lowering suspensions, they have more than doubled the graduation rate from 36% to 80%.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles (BBBSLA) – ($25K recipient) – Their mission is to provide one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth. BBBSLA is one of the largest Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliates in the country and one of the largest youth mentoring organizations in Southern California.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Los Angeles (BGCMLA) – ($25K recipient) – The mission of Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Los Angeles (BGCMLA) is to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring and responsible citizens. Committed to sustainable impact, BGCMLA consist of five sites and is the result of a partnership unifying Los Angeles’ Boys and Girls Clubs in the region’s most vulnerable neighborhoods since 1960 including Challengers, Watts/Willowbrook, Bell Gardens, and Jordan Downs. BGCMLA offers nationally recognized programs in three core areas to ensure the achievement and empowerment of youth and their families: Academic Success, Good Character and Citizenship and Healthy Lifestyles.

Children’s Institute – ($25K recipient) – Children’s Institute provides early education, behavioral health and family strengthening services to 30,000 children and families each year. They also train professionals and caregivers in trauma-informed care, evidence-based clinical treatment, parenting and fatherhood.

Fulfillment Fund – ($25K recipient) – Fulfillment Fund works to make college a reality for students growing up in educationally and economically under-resourced communities. They aim to build pathways to college, navigate educational barriers, create support networks, and empower future leaders.

St. Joseph Center – ($25K recipient) – St. Joseph Center is committed to addressing homelessness through a racial equity lens and providing working poor families, as well as homeless men, women, and children of all ages with the inner resources and tools to become productive, stable and self-supporting members of the community.

BOSS – ($20K recipient) – The mission of BOSS (Business of Student Success) is to equip boys of color with tools to succeed in school, in the community and professionally, with an emphasis on STEAM, critical thinking/writing and related fields. They also leverage the power of sport to inspire boys to pursue greatness.

Communities in Schools (CIS) – ($20K recipient) – CIS’ mission is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life. CISLA works in 13 LAUSD schools serving 12,500 K-12 students in South LA, Watts, Boyle Heights, Pico-Union and areas of West LA.

Covenant House – ($20K recipient) – Covenant House provides housing and supportive services to youth facing homelessness. They help young people transform their lives and put them on a path to independence.

HomeLight Family Living – ($20k recipient) – A program of The Midnight Mission, HomeLight Family Living is located in Inglewood and provides the path for families in crisis to reunify, rebuild and restore their lives. They provide education, career preparedness, counseling and life skills to break the cycle of abuse and poverty and ensure independent, successful living.

LA Family Housing – ($20K recipient) – Each year, LA Family Housing helps more than 11,000 people transition out of homelessness and poverty through four main service areas including outreach and engagement, housing placement, supporting services and real estate development.

LAPD Community Safety Partnership – ($20K recipient) – The Community Safety Partnership Bureau (CSPB) was first established in 2011 as a “program,” funded by the LAPD in partnership with the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) and the Ballmer Group. Originally comprised of 40 police officers, it has grown to over 100 sworn personnel. Organized into 10-person teams, they service the most challenging neighborhoods in Los Angeles. The five components that make up the CSPB’s overarching mission are: community outreach, youth programs, public safety, school safe passage and wrap-around services for victims and families.

LA Regional Food Bank (LARFB) – ($20K recipient) – LARFB mobilizes resources to fight hunger in Los Angeles by: sourcing and acquiring food and other products and distribute to needy people through charitable agencies or directly through programs, energizing the community to get involved and support hunger relief, and conducting hunger education and awareness campaigns and advocating for public policies that alleviate hunger.

Los Angeles Room and Board – ($20K recipient) – LA Room and Board’s mission is to end college student hunger and homelessness by providing stable housing with access to two healthy meals daily, and to ensure students complete their college degree by providing comprehensive wrap-around programs designed to set students up for success both inside the classroom and within their communities. In LA County, 1 in 5 community college students are experiencing homelessness and two-thirds of them are going hungry.

Sharefest – ($20k recipient) – Sharefest’s mission is to empower underserved youth to transform their future and become leaders of collaborative community change.

Social Justice Learning Institute (SJLI) – ($20K recipient) – SJLI is dedicated to improving education, health and wellbeing of youth and communities of color by empowering them to enact social change through research, training and community mobilization.

Jewish Community Foundation Of Los Angeles Awards $325,000 To Support Racial Equity

The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (The Foundation) announced that it has awarded grants totaling $325,000 to seven local organizations to support racial equity.

The funding is being directed to programs that span a diverse range of areas including health care for Black women and infants; job opportunities for at-risk youth and those exiting the justice system; access to quality education; and leadership opportunities for Black professionals. The seven recipients are: A New Way of Life Reentry Project, African American Board Leadership Institute, Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Jews of Color Initiative, Black Women for Wellness, Los Angeles Brotherhood Crusade, and Social Justice Learning Institute.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Marvin I. Schotland stated: “In response to the current social unrest, The Foundation decided to make these grants. These inspiring programs align with our institution’s own values of creating a more civil, just and equitable society. We are proud to place our support behind these initiatives and look forward to following the progress of their meaningful work.”

Schotland indicated that to enhance The Foundation’s understanding of the important issues and organizations serving communities of color, it consulted with numerous prominent funders and experts in the field.

The Foundation CEO added: “These nonprofits have received prior support from trusted funders, as well as our foundation’s own donors, which helped to inform our decision-making. Beyond that, we established criteria that included being Black-led, well-established, located in the communities they serve, and focused on providing direct services.”

Susan Burton, founder and executive director of A New Way of Life, stated: “This grant will support our work and continued efforts in equity and opportunity for formerly incarcerated people and their children. With The Foundation’s support, we are able to expand our housing services with two more safehouses during the pandemic for the women we serve. Thanks to The Foundation, a safe and stable home is possible for current and future residents during these difficult times.”

Added Ilana Kaufman, executive director, Jews of Color Initiative: “With the generosity of The Foundation, the Jews of Color Initiative can expand our work to foster equitable Jewish communities and institutions by extending research and grantmaking efforts to support and advance the leadership and visions of Jews of Color.”

Artists and Supporters Look to Foster Solidarity in New Art Auction that Benefits SJLI

Some business owners in the South Bay boarded up their windows for a few days this past summer as a precaution when protests over the death of George Floyd were followed by unrest and looting in Los Angeles.

A group of artists and supporters are using the donated plywood from those businesses as a medium for artistic expression, to help raise awareness of social injustice, as well as to raise funds for good causes.

The online auction, Solidarity, takes place beginning Saturday Oct. 17 and runs through Oct 24, to benefit the Social Justice Learning Institute and Claris Health, which both serve at-risk people in Los Angeles.

South Bay residents Chad Drew and Janne Kouri helped organize the event with support from South Bay Artist Collective and Funddeed.

Drew, a sitcom writer and business owner, said “everyone sort of came together and brought their own little piece of it.”

“My initial thought was, how cool would be to get artists to come out that day, and just paint stuff on those boards. But, logistically, that wasn’t something that we could have pulled off in a day,” Drew said.

Kouri founded the nonprofit organization NextStep Fitness, which helps build and operate rehab centers for individuals living with paralysis. This month he took part in the Ride for Paralysis II “Paso Robles to Manhattan Beach,” which took place from Oct. 2 to 8, and raised funds for NextStep Fitness’ goals to help the 6 million people and service members living with paralysis in the United States.

“Walking around downtown Manhattan Beach, and just seeing all the stores paneled up was a depressing sight to see,” Kouri said. “We thought it’d be something amazing if we take these panels and turn them into something positive.”

Kouri said the idea behind Solidarity was not political.

“What’s your opportunity to promote unity and solidarity and something hopeful and positive?” Kouri said. “We thought this was a great way to allow the artist to express themselves and kind of tell their own story and share their vision about what’s going on.”

Kouri said he reached out to his artist friend Wendy Stillman, who contacted Rafael McMaster, founder of South Bay Artist Collective, to help organize artists for the event. Both have pieces in the auction.

McMaster said the art is on view the week of the auction by appointment only at Resin Gallery in Hermosa Beach, the home of the South Bay Artist Collective.

With the social and political climate, with tension being felt across the country, McMaster said it wasn’t time for him as an artist to stick his head in the sand and pretend like nothing is happening, but at the same time find a way to process his emotions about systemic racism and inequality in America.

“I think it’s important more now than ever, that we express that humanity, that we help each other get inspired, that we look for inspiration,’ McMaster said. “Now more than ever, is when we need more art, more creativity, more humanity, more connection, more compassion.”

South Bay-based nonprofit Funddeed’s goal when it was founded in 2018 was to use a digital platform to pair creatives with causes and charities that they want to raise funds as well as awareness for including events like Solidarity.

“The challenge for nonprofits is definitely filling the fundraising void,” said Funddeed founder Kent Land. “Hopefully, we’ve got a way to help them do that as one additional way during these times when it’s really tough for them to do in-person events.”

Some of the other artists involved in the event include Bo Bridges, Brent Broza, Sabrina Armitage, Drica Lobo, Daniel Maltzman, Janice Schultz, Candyce Fabre and Vienna Pitts.

Drew said several businesses donated the boards including Noelle Interiors and The Strand House.

For more information, visit

The auction site,, will be live Oct. 17.

FIGat7th Giving Back to Community

FIGat7th wanted to support its restaurants and the greater community, so the manager of retail marketing, Leah Ross, created Dine with Purpose to do just that.

“Basically, I created the program so we could invite FIGat7th patrons to get $20 back on dining at one of our 15 restaurants and eateries, including Mendocino Farms, The Melt, George’s Greek Grill and Oleego By Parks BBQ,” Ross said. 

“I just wanted to make it really easy, so customers have to spend $50 or more in a single transaction and then they submit the receipt to”

This program runs until December 30.

Another way for customers to start the process to receive the $20 is by texting DINEFIG at 811811.

“We have a couple of very easy ways for people to do this, and it encourages people to go and maybe get a meal, like a Friday night date night meal or get a Sunday family meal, and spend that $50 or more in that single transaction and get this really great reward of $20,” Ross said.

Ross called the program a “win-win” because customers are getting something and “the restaurant doesn’t have to put any funds to support this promotion. It’s all being done by FIGat7th.”

The reward is in the form of a digital gift card that does not need to be used at FIGat7th, but Ross hopes that people do to help “support the restaurants.”

Owner of George’s Greek Grill Kamyar “Kam” Ajzachi thinks the program is “a good idea for something to give back to the community.

“We always appreciate what they offered to help out, and we are always happy to help out as well,” Ajzachi said. “I think it will definitely increase sales and get more people that don’t normally have the budget to dine out as much because of the whole COVID-19 situation, it will give them a little bit more leeway to be able to dine out and enjoy eating away from home.”

For two decades Ajzachi and George’s Greek Grill have been at FIGat7th. They were fortunate to stay open during the pandemic, only closing when it was mandatory due to “riots and the looting,” according to Ajzachi.

“George’s Greek Grill is a fixture there at FIGat7th, and people love the food,” Ross said. “They love the sense of community that they get from eating there and getting food from there.”

The senior director of marketing for Mendocino Farms, Riki Swindler, was “pleasantly surprised” when she was told about the program.

“We did not have any real heads-up about it, and I think it’s incredible to see the stuff that FIGat7th is doing—such an amazing initiative to support the local community and to help create the dining communities,” Swindler said. “It’s been a great part of our mission since we opened, so we feel very lucky to be partnering with them on this and being able to be part of it.”

Swindler hopes the program will “fuel the fire to bring business back at FIGat7th” to help the struggling restaurants during this time.

“I think like a lot of restaurants, our world was turned upside down back in March and there was a lot of quick thinking on our feet and pivoting that we needed to do so we could continue to be a viable and safe option for our guests,” Swindler said. 

“We did a lot of adapting kind of how the ordering worked in our stores. We did a lot of kind of increased cleanliness and safety measure improvements. And we put a lot more focus on kind of rolling out and improving our digital ordering offerings and even coming out with an app during the COVID-19 frames to make it as easy and safe as possible to continue to make food available to the local community.”

Swindler said a “big thank you to FIGat7th” on the conference call with Ross, who replied with a “you’re welcome” and that she does it “for you guys and for the restaurant community.” Ross also uses the app to order at Mendocino Farms.

In addition to Dine with Purpose, there is also Share with Purpose.

“There is a Share with Purpose program. It comes when (customers) post a photo of their meal on Instagram with #DineFIGat7th, and FIGat7th will donate an additional $20 to the Social Justice Learning Institute—up to $10,000—that will go toward their response to food insecurity caused by COVID-19,” Ross said.

“When we were looking to choose the organization for the community component of this promotion, we really wanted to benefit an organization tied to both COVID-19 relief and social justice issues. So, the Social Justice Learning Institute really was best for that.”

For more information about the program, go to