When you grow up poor the number one thing you miss out on is access: access to information and access to resources. One way that my family filled in that gap, was by putting me in programs. When I graduated from High School and enrolled in college at DePaul University I started getting employed by different programs and volunteering my free time. When I graduated from High School, the #7 item on that list of 22 things I wanted to accomplish in my life was “To develop my own non-profit organization, for the benefit of African American girls aged 8 to 16 (possibly 18). Well today, I am happy to announce that dream has come true, and I am now the Executive Director of Donda’s House, Inc.
Caption: Dr. Donda West at a book signing for the book she authored entitled Raising Kanye
The mission of Donda’s House, Inc. is to honor the educational legacy of Dr. Donda West by implementing arts, health/wellness and literature experiences that transform youth. Although I didn’t know Dr. West personally, I have had the opportunity to study her by reading her publications, listening to her former colleagues and students and speaking to my husband who was introduced to her at the age of 16 while he & Kanye worked on music. Dr. West was a woman who understood the power of language and she spent her life teaching others how to procure that power both professionally and personally. She was a Master Teacher, who understood the importance of students learning by doing, long before experiential learning became popular.
So as we prepare to embark on this journey by picking up her torch I want to honor the programs that have shaped me into who I am and that will certainly inform my service as the director of Donda’s House Inc.
– At 12 years old I participated in the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools. This was also the year that I was raped and my innocence was stolen from me. Freedom Schools provided me with both an escape from my harsh reality and a love of literature.
– After working at McDonald’s I got my first professional job through the Minneapolis Urban League. During the summer before 9th grade I interned with an attorney (F. Clayton Tyler) and discovered that I no longer wanted to be a lawyer but picked up a ton of professional skills.
– It was the Minneapolis Urban League that also introduced me to my internship with Insight News, one of the few African American owned publications in the nation. This paid internship lasted all four years of High School and my mentor Batala McFarlane taught me how to not only be a great editor but she showed me how to be a woman. This was the place where I had the opportunity to see my writing (and my face) in print for the first time. This also lead to me being Editor in Chief of my High School newspaper The Polaris.
– Project Success was another amazing program that took young people in the inner city to plays and created dialogue around those plays. It was also Project Success that provided the means for the college tour that would allow me to travel to Chicago to visit colleges I was interested in, including DePaul where I eventually decided to go.
– Upward Bound was a program for first generation college students. It was directed by Aloida Zaragoza. Upward Bound provided the blueprint on how to apply to college and we took college level courses at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities Campus. I would not have gone to college had it not been for this program.
– I also participated in the Minneapolis Urban League NULITES Program which took me on a historic black college tour around the country which was ran by a beautiful woman named Joy Cattledge.
Caption: Travis Lee and I with my best friend Jernell at the radio station. This was in 2001.
– Finally, the Let’s Motivate Radio Show, ran by Travis Lee. He corralled a bunch of us teenagers on the #1 urban radio show in Minneapolis (KMOJ) and allowed us to have an entire hour every week to discuss issues and whatever we wanted to talk about on the air. It was there that I learned how to articulate and debate my opinions…
Caption: Dr. Donda West and her son Kanye Omari West
The list literally goes on and on. I hope that Donda’s House Inc. can transform the lives of our participants and our staff, as so many programs did for me. As Marian Wright Edelman, another mentor of mine says “service is the rent we pay for living.” If you know of any 15 – 24 year olds who are interested in pursuing a career in music and/or that want to get in shape, please have them apply for our pilot program here.
Flyer designed by my High School Best Friend Jernell “Phyr Flyy” McLane. She started doing design work when we were in High School and is still amazing & a true artist!
The people who work for and with Donda’s House, Inc. are not only highly accomplished but they are passionate about helping young people change their lives through art and a healthy lifestyle. We are all attempting to be the change we wish to see in the world… I’d also like to thank our Board of Directors and staff for committing to and supporting our mission: Dr. Garrard McClendon, Julie Kerouac, Exavier Pope, Olivia Gil-Guevara, Kanye West, Miles Stroter, T.L. Williams, Titus Wonsley and last but not least Che “Rhymefest” Smith.