(Pictured left to right: Vanessa Russell, Tamisha Walker, Jon’Ta Davenport, and Ricka Davis-Sheard)
According to a survey conducted by Race to Lead in 2016, people of color made up less than 20% of Executive Directors or CEO’s in non-profit leadership. The lack of representation isn’t a matter of skill or education, but rather the implicit biases which still influence the leadership selection processes inside these non-profits.
Yet the black community has a rich history of mobilizing in response to systemic issues. We see countless examples not only as we turn the pages of our history books and read about the experiences of Black Americans who fought to abolish slavery, or who ended segregation in the Civil Rights Movement, but also across today’s headlines and media posts as the Black Lives Matter Movement fights to end police brutality, or Fair Fight Action mobilizes to prevent voter suppression targeted toward people of color.
In honor of Black History Month, we have chosen to highlight four black led non-profits which are making an impact in our local community. These leaders have stepped into a long standing tradition of what it means to be a black leader, by focusing on providing solutions, hope, peace, prosperity, life, and light to members of the community, and most often to members who are the most overlooked or the most unwelcome.
After Vanessa Russell learned that one of her dance students had fallen victim to human trafficking, she was inspired to found Love Never Fails to help combat the modern day slavery that still plagues the most vulnerable members of our communities. Not only has LNF educated thousands, bringing awareness to the realities and struggles of human trafficking, the organization has also been able to assist survivors with long term housing and restorative services. LNF is continuing to make an impact with offices across the Bay Area. Russell has been recognized with numerous awards for her efforts, and LNF was both a Classy Awards Finalist and East Bay Innovations Finalist in 2021.
Tamisha Walker is not only the Executive Director of Safe Return Project, but also a founding member. Pulling from her own experiences with incarceration and poverty, her work empowers those who have been incarcerated to not only lead successful lives upon re-entry, but to become impactful community advocates. Safe Return Project’s numerous programs include a Local Organizing Committee, a Richard Boyd Fellowship, and a Collective Impact Institute. They have also run various campaigns to enact changes at a policy level which disproportionately affect and criminalize black and brown communities. Their current Mass Liberation Movement (#massliberationmovement) is working to end mass incarceration.
3. Elda House
Jon’Ta Davenport serves as the Executive Director and Program Director of Elda House. Elda House provides safe transitional housing as well as wrap-around services for community members who have fallen on hard times. Founded on principles such as “every life matters” and “every life deserves assistance”, Elda house offers extraordinary compassion through their client-centered approach to care. They utilize trained case managers, who they fittingly call “change agents” in their approach, to ensure each client they serve is connected with the proper resources based on their unique needs. It’s in this way that they fulfill their purpose of serving those who are “over-looked and over-stretched- who are struggling with poverty and other complex issues.”
Last, but not least on our list, we are including our own organization, SHARE Community, which is led and co-founded by the unconquerable Ricka Davis-Sheard. The mission itself is simple: “to share hope, abundance, resources, and encouragement with members of the community and the organizations who serve them by creating ways for people to work together toward positive change”. Despite SHARE’s relatively new inception the organization, with Davis-Sheard at the helm, has already made good on that promise. With it’s official launch in 2020, SHARE has worked with community partners to launch a mobile shower program which provides guests experiencing homelessness with toilets, showers, a clean outfit, free laundry services, and other services. SHARE also provides other programs to serve and empower the community.
These leaders and the organizations they diligently lead and represent, remind us that we don’t need to search very far to find our own modern day movements responding to our community needs.
Thank you to the leaders, staffs, volunteers, and other community members of these organizations who work to create positive change!