Back in December 2012, my inbox included an acceptance to the 2013 class of NLC-SF:
“New Leaders Council trains the best and the brightest of the next generation of progressive entrepreneurs, and we are honored to have you join this incredible cohort of Fellows.”
Since then, I’ve often returned to this email. It reminds me how far I’ve come and how integral NLC has been to my journey.
The first day of NLC Institute began with seventeen new faces, a long list of fancy credentials, and some folks in fancier attire (I’m looking at you, Ms. Julia Rhee). My non-profit background and Target dress pants were intimidated. I thought strategically and positioned myself by the free onion bagels.
It was the right move. Within minutes (ie my third bagel), people joined me and conversation flowed easily — my favorite schmear (honey almond), where the fancy people shop (Goodwill!) and how we’ll all make the world a better place.
It’s fun to think about the brief moment that I was intimidated by my NLC Fellow Fellows. By the time our first institute session was over, they’d become family. We laughed together. We inspired each other. And, most importantly, they challenged me.
In institute, I told my Fellows about my dream to create a social enterprise that combined my love of cooking with my passion for youth employment. I told them about my timeline – 5 years, give or take.
“Why not do it now?”
“What’s going to change in 5 years?”
I said something about financial models and access to capital. But even I didn’t buy it.
“Why don’t I just create my dream company now?”
I used the NLC capstone project as an opportunity to create my strategic plan. I confessed to my Fellow-Fellow, Stevon Cook that I wanted to leave the 9-5 world behind and focus on building a company that would impact low-income youth by providing job opportunities. Instead of laughing in my face, he confessed that he too wanted something crazy – to run for SF school board the following year.
When the institute came to an end, Stevon didn’t mess around. He committed the rest of 2013 to setting up meetings and getting feedback about his potential candidacy. More than a few folks told him he wasn’t a viable candidate. He didn’t let that stop him.
His tenacity fueled a fire in me. By January 2014, I left my full time job to focus on my dream company.
In February, I threw Stevon his first house party. (He would go on to raise over $60K during his campaign.)
Later in the month, I settled on naming my Oakland based company, The Town Kitchen.
Stevon missed being elected by less than 2% of the votes. But he showed us that a young, black candidate from the Bayview can raise a shit ton of money and put up a good fight.
NLC has taught me that we can’t wait on change. Being progressive means we’re willing to do the hard work. We have to send thousands of emails, knock on hundreds of doors, and be willing to hear no.
But it’s worth it.
I created The Town Kitchen because I believe in the power of youth just as my NLC family has believed in me. I’m proud to be a board member for NLC Oakland and I’m proud to say that The Town Kitchen was created in NLC.
Please support my campaign to crowdfund our kitchen: bit.ly/thetownkitchen