I started working at the age of 12, and at many points in my life I had two (sometimes three) jobs, including in High School. Every two weeks, since then, I’ve received at least one paycheck. When your checks are regulated, your meals are regulated and your lifestyle is regulated.
Last August, my husband Che “Rhymefest” Smith, Kanye & I launched Donda’s House, Inc., with a simple idea – that kids deserve access to artistic opportunities. Art changes lives. It certainly changed mine, when I was raped by my mother’s boyfriend at the age of 12. I did not go to counseling or therapy at that time, but I did put ink to paper. My notebook, and reading the poetry of Maya Angelou, Sonia Sanchez and Nikki Giovanni carried me through that confusion, shame and anger… It’s hard to believe it, and downright disgusting that somewhere around 75% of black and Latino youth do not have access to arts instruction. Unfortunately, art is usually the first thing to go when schools face budget crises. Creativity has been relegated to the crevices of public education and when we look at the poor reading and math skills, the violence and the overall funk that low-income communities seem steeped in, there has to be correlation.
After we launched Donda’s House, I quickly realized that not only did I love it more than teaching, but that it was what I was sent to this planet to do. In the same way that plants provide oxygen to humans, I am supposed to advocate for access, build bridges over troubled water and steer this large vessel that we call Donda’s House in the right direction. This is the first job that I’ve had, that is always on my mind, and this is the first job that I’ve had that doesn’t feel like work. I live for the moment that our artists believe that they are talented, for the moments of discomfort where we ask them to do something creatively they’ve never done before, for the final mixed version of the songs that they work all semester for. Besides my family, I live for Donda’s House…
When I submitted my Echoing Green Application in December of 2013, my prayer was if it be God’s will, to make a way to allow me to do Donda’s House full time. The deal that I made with myself was that I could only leave teaching if at least replaced my teaching salary. The day that I received the news was a particularly tough day, and I cried like a baby, because on top of the realization that I was in fact being provided with the opportunity to focus exclusively on Donda’s House, it was confirmation for me, that I have in fact discovered my life’s purpose. Not only does Echoing Green provide seed funding, but I am a part of a 55 member cohort of organizational leaders from all over the world in multiple industries, looking to change the world with a big, bold idea. Read more about all of the fellows here: http://www.echoinggreen.org/blog/whos-next-meet-2014-fellows. One of the first things that I learned is that this work cannot be done alone and a strong tribe (network) is vital to success! Additionally, the support and training that I will receive as a fellow will really help to accelerate my growth as a leader, and our impact as an organization. Also, the fellowship will take me to Mumbai, India later this year!!!
At this moment I am feeling incredibly blessed… a little scared (like going up the hill on a roller coaster scared). My husband joked that I’ve pretty much accomplished everything on my list of 10 year goals (that were set 10 years ago, one of which included to start an organization of my own). He’s challenged me to recreate a list for the next 10 years.
I’m planning to make more time to write, and I’d like to thank you for sharing in my journey! The truth is, I quit my job and I’m changing not only my world, but the world that I live in. I hope that when I’m no longer here, it can be said that I made the world a better place because there were so many that came before me, who did just that for me. If you haven’t already, please check out Donda’s House: http://dondashouseinc.org/ and join our mailing list: http://dondashouse.us3.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=3e2f2bf4af854cabb9f6e542c&id=8382974aca.