August 1, 2023
Black Philanthropy Month: Four Leaders Promoting the Welfare of Others
August is Black Philanthropy Month, and we are highlighting four philanthropic leaders who dedicate their time to promoting the welfare of others by supporting good causes led by Black people and/or that have a mission that primarily benefits Black communities.
In Houston, there are a vast number of incredible people who work to ignite positive change for this community. Because this list is far from exhaustive, we encourage you to share the name of a philanthropic leader in this space that we should highlight in the future by emailing [email protected].
Juana Collins: Executive Director of Feed the Soul Foundation and Advisory Board Member at Casa De Esperanza
Juana Collins has dedicated her professional career to building or re-building nonprofit organizations in Houston, Atlanta, and Philadelphia. As of May of 2023, Juana Collins began “construction” on a newer nonprofit when she accepted the position as Executive Director of Feed the Soul Foundation.
“I’ve been in the nonprofit sector for over 30 years, and I kind of stumbled into the sector coming from East Texas. I grew up giving back to my community or showing up and being there for others in my community. At the time, I didn’t realize this was philanthropy; it just felt like the right thing to do. In Houston, I have noticed that everyone is giving, friendly, and caring. Although not everyone may have the resources to donate, a lot of Houstonians want to help.” – Juana Collins, Executive Director of Feed the Soul Foundation.
Feed the Soul Foundation (FSF) was founded by Black Restaurant Week LLC in 2020 amid a global pandemic, as Falayn Ferrel, Warren Luckett, and Derek Robinson, all associated with Black Restaurant Week, LLC, observed that across various cities, there were systemic challenges of marginalized culinary businesses. Thus, FSF was created to provide resources to culinary industry entrepreneurs across the United States from Black, Latin, and other marginalized communities. FSF helps even the playing field and closes the gaps that exist between the amazing culinary concepts of business owners and the path to a healthy, sustainable business model for those concepts.
There are three primary programs where resources are allocated through FSF, all intending to create a sense of independence, economic growth, and thriving businesses in marginalized communities. The Restaurant Business Development Program Cohorts is a business development program valued at $25,000, giving business owners a financial stipend and in-depth consultation and training to support business owners with sustainability practices. They also have a scholarship program, Project NXT, for those interested in the culinary business to obtain long-lasting knowledge on the importance of sustainable economic development in marginalized communities. In addition, FSF oversees an Emergency Relief Assistance Fund, which provides applicants access to resources to support their businesses during a recession or nationwide disaster.
We asked Collins what was next for FSF, and she informed us that her focus is on scaling the organization by building a sustainable, diverse group of funders. FSF has had incredible corporate support from companies like Grubhub and Anheuser-Busch/Stella Artois, but Collins will continue to work to build the funding and volunteer base. She also shared,
“We have partnered with the University of Houston to develop a ‘State of the Industry Report,’ which will be the first of its kind. The goal of the report is to serve as a roadmap for advocacy work within the culinary industry to help marginalized restaurant entrepreneurs.” – Juana Collins, Executive Director of Feed the Soul Foundation.
Throughout the interview, Collins attributed her success and impact within the nonprofit sector to an array of mentors, whom she now considers dear friends. She shared the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people to steer you in the right direction. In turn, she is now doing exactly that, as she has dedicated her professional life to providing mentorship opportunities to those early in their culinary careers.
Efrem Jernigan, Board President – South Union Development Corporation
Efrem Jernigan’s drive to give back to his community started when he became a Deacon in his church in 2005 – giving him a strong spirit of servitude. He currently serves as the Board President of the South Union Community Development Corporation (South Union CDC), a nonprofit established to help develop the South Union community and surrounding areas of Houston.
Jernigan’s journey with community development started with STEM education when he noticed an economic problem. As an employee of a Chemical Plant, he noticed that his employer did not hire from inner-city Houston. Therefore, the STEM Foundation Program through the South Union CDC was started in 2010 to ensure that inner-city, third through twelfth graders, were aware of a variety of STEM careers. The STEM Foundation provides project-based instructions in science, technology, engineering, and math called “seeds of success.” The program offers one-on-one guidance on how to use STEM in everyday life through presentations from professionals, local businesses, and local field trips to see STEM in action. As a result, the STEM Foundation has sent over 55 graduates to colleges and universities pursuing careers in the various industries they were exposed to because of the program.
We asked Jernigan what he is most proud of as he aims to make a positive difference in Houston, and he shared the story about bringing Sunshine to Sunnyside.
“I’m most proud that the STEM education journey led to an opportunity to write a proposal about what to do with a 240-acre landfill in my birth community of Sunnyside. We wrote the proposal inclusive of STEM learning and community economic development and won. Now, the Sunnyside Energy Solar Farm is being built and we are bringing “Sunshine to Sunnyside.” – Efrem Jernigan, Board President, South Union Community Development Corporation.
This project will convert a former landfill into one of the largest urban solar farms in the country, all right here in Houston’s Sunnyside neighborhood. The project is set to break ground in 2023, where the South Union CDC is working on training residents for the jobs this program is expected to bring.
Jernigan’s vision for a better Houston is to help make the transformations he can in his own community and see how it expands from there. His efforts with “Sunshine in Sunnyside” are a great example of how he is planting seeds now to change the face of the future in his community. Although he has been highly successful at fulfilling the South Union CDC’s mission, he feels that a better Houston region must have more equitable access to philanthropic funding.
Currently, Jernigan is retired and devotes all his time to giving back to the Sunnyside Community. In addition to serving as the Board President of the South Union CDC, he participates with the Sunnyside Community Energy Group.
Christopher Mayes, Chief Executive Officer at Beatrice Mayes Institute a Wonderland Inc. School
Christopher Mayes is dedicating his professional career not only to continue his parents’ legacy, but to keep enriching the community he grew up in, by serving as the Chief Executive Officer at Beatrice Mayes Institute (BMI). BMI is a public charter school that strives to expand minds, build character, and inspire community action. Over 55 years ago, BMI was founded by Beatrice and Thomas Mayes (Christopher Mayes’ parents), with thirty students. Today, BMI has over 3,000 alumni and another 500 students enrolled for the 2023-24 academic year. As an alum from BMI, Mayes knows first-hand the importance of giving the people in his neighborhood, Third Ward, a place they call home. It is not just for the students; it is for the employees and faculty too. When we asked him what brought him back to BMI, he stated,
“When I first came back to work at Beatrice Mayes Institute, I was helping with tutorials for middle school students who needed a little extra assistance. To see the gaps close and the light bulbs go on in the students I was assisting resonated with me. These students had a freedom because they were comfortable with not knowing or understanding but attacking the learning anyways.” – Christopher Mayes, Chief Executive Officer at Beatrice Mayes Institute.
Over the years, Mayes has witnessed so many success stories. And, when a BMI alum has success, they tend to bring others within the BMI community along with them. At BMI, the students come first. The faculty’s primary focus is on what each student needs to succeed. They see a student as a whole person, and when a student is struggling, they look at the big picture – what is going on in that student’s life that could be the source of a particular issue?
“In the greater Houston metroplex, I would love to see in the world of Charter and ISD schools a way where all schools focused on the students first, instead of acting as competitors. We should not be competing for resources. There needs to be options in schools. As a city, we should support local leaders to help provide not only education but giving our students access to social-emotional tools, housing, health care, and more. This is what will help Greater Houston thrive.” – Christopher Mayes, Chief Executive Officer at Beatrice Mayes Institute.
Once you are in the BMI community, you are part of it for life. It is not uncommon for Mayes or one of his colleagues to help former students of BMI who are facing obstacles in a new school home. They intervene by meeting with school administrators to help the new school have context and more tools to set that student up for success.
BMI is in the middle of a large capital campaign to build a new facility. They are working on soliciting more support and scaling their team to make sure they have all the right people in place when the new building is complete in early 2024. Mayes admittedly stated that it has been hard to get attention and funding, but they are grateful for the relationships they have fostered with the people who really believe in their vision, including the Houston Charter Seed Fund, a fund administered by Greater Houston Community Foundation, with a focus of accelerating the impact of emerging charter school networks in Greater Houston.
Tiffany S. Roland: Managing Director and Banker at J.P. Morgan Private Bank, Board Member at Collaborative for Children and Kids’ Meals, and is involved with the March of Dimes Birth Equity Initiative
Professionally, Tiffany S. Roland works with her clients to help unlock the value of their wealth. In her limited spare time, Roland is passionate about organizations that focus on creating systemic changes, primarily for women and children. For many things, Roland is the first generation in her family to accomplish many accolades, including graduating college and obtaining her graduate degree. Coming from humble beginnings and being raised by a resilient single mom, giving back and stewardship was always engrained in her – what they had, they gave – even if it was not always monetarily.
“The difference between me and many of the people I grew up with is that I got an opportunity that they did not – they were not any less driven – it simply means I was blessed to have a chance that others did not receive. My [philanthropic] focus is on systemic change in communities that resemble those I grew up in. It’s one by one, planting seeds where you can to allow others to make systemic, cultural, and generational changes.” Tiffany S. Roland, Managing Director and Banker at J.P. Morgan Private Bank.
Roland has spent her entire career, over 25 years, at J.P. Morgan Private Bank. She credits the firm’s mentorship, guidance, and support with much of her professional success. At no point has she ever felt like she did not have the things she needed from those around her at work. In addition, the firm has given her opportunities to give back, including serving as the Executive Sponsor for the Houston Fellowship Initiative at J.P. Morgan Private Bank. The Fellowship Initiative is a mentorship program focused on young men of color. They partner with high-performing youth from underserved schools throughout high school and college, helping them with college applications, loans, and grants. The Fellowship Initiative has had over 800 participants with a 95% graduate rate, helping to create systemic changes in the communities these kids are from.
Personally, when we asked her what advice she would give to someone facing obstacles based on their ethnicity, gender, or anything else, she shared,
“You can choose to be a victim, let things break you, but life is a lot about choices. You can choose to give someone the satisfaction that they were able to bring you down. In my personal life, I have been knocked down more times than I can count, but people only tend to see the successes, not the failures. I always say that my greatest strength is getting back up.” Tiffany S. Roland, Managing Director and Banker at J.P. Morgan Private Bank.
One of Roland’s favorite quotes is by Winston Churchill: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Roland is truly living with a purpose that is greater than herself, focusing on organizations and/or people that are not looking for a “hand out, but a hand up.”