Every Black History Month, I joke around with my friends about the number of red, green, black, and yellow logos we’ll see from corporations that want to support Black lives in every way but structurally. I’ll even duck and dodge some of my work place’s diversity meetings, out of fear that there will be no lasting structural change implemented within the organization.
This year, however, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about Nike’s Black Community Commitment– a grant program created in 2020, designed to financially support various organizations around the country that are dedicated to racial justice and equity, as well as holistic well-being in the Black Community. Nike has dedicated 40 million dollars over 4 years, and Michael Jordan, by way of the Jordan brand, has committed $100 million over 10 years. The aim behind these grants is to invest in, and support organizations focused on economic empowerment, education innovation, and social justice, to address and bridge racial inequality for the Black community in the U.S.
To talk more about the organization’s commitment and its impacts, Nike invited members of various media outlets to their headquarters in New York for a morning of holistic well-being, and a discussion on the impact of Nike’s Black Community Commitment.
Our morning started with a yoga session led by Nike Trainer Rebekah Price, who founded “irise yoga + wellness” in 2015. Rebekah dedicates her organization to connecting, promoting, and fostering the inclusion of people of color and historically marginalized groups in yoga, and wellness spaces. Rebekah used soothing music and gentle stretches to offer an introductory yoga class, and we left the session joking about how much tighter our hamstrings were than we expected.
After the yoga session and chats over organic juice drinks, we listened to a panel featuring three grant awardee representatives: Dr. Patrice Johnson, who is the Chief Program Officer of Black Girls Code, Dr. Lena Green, who is the Executive Director of the H.O.P.E Center in Harlem, NY, and Melanie Campbell, the President and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and Convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable. Dr. Johnson, Dr. Green, and Ms. Campbell discussed the various ways their organizations support the Black community via various routes, and the goals of their organizations, and provided a brief overview of the kinds of programmatic builds that Nike is supporting.
Dr. Johnson reflected on a Hack-A-Thon that Black Girls Code hosted with Nike, stating that 97% of the girls that attended said that they felt empowered and supported by Nike Mentors. She mentioned the joy of the event, and that with their partnership with Nike, Black Girls Code is “able to help our girls better understand some of the fun, real-world applications for a career in coding”.
Dr. Green and Ms. Campbell commented on the importance of mental health and Nike’s support of their organization in emphasizing this message. Dr. Green noted that with Nike’s support, the H.O.P.E center was able to “…create a program specifically for teens called Thrive,” a program focused on suicide prevention for Black and Latinx youth. Ms. Campbell noted the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation’s program “Healthy, Wealthy, Wise”, and emphasized the need to empower those engaged in civic advocacy: “If we aren’t addressing holistic well-being– mind, body, spirit– in civil rights and social justice work, then we aren’t addressing the whole of our community needs, especially those dealing with anxiety and stress”.
We left the panel discussion feeling uplifted, and excited about how each of these organizations, among many other grant winners for the year, will continue to support racial justice and equity within various domains. From the panel discussion, we moved to a separate room for a healing exercise led by another grant-winning organization, Youth Guidance. During this exercise, we discussed the meaning of femininity for each individual (as a concept, regardless of gender), and ways to empower ourselves as individuals broadly. We found that this kind of empowerment was an especially peaceful way to bring in the delicious lunch that was provided.
After lunch, we were fortunate enough to speak with Nike’s Senior Director of Inclusive Community, Social and Community Impact, Karol Collymore (she/her), who was able to share some more information on Nike’s Black Community Commitment, and its present and long-term goals. First, Karol and I discussed the inspiration behind the initiative. She mentioned that the BCC started in the summer of 2020.
“So, in the summer of 2020, as you know we were all home for COVID, and we all experienced, globally, the murder of George Floyd. And that really spurred Nike to take on the Black Community Commitment, led by John Donahoe and Kirk Williams, to create Nike’s commitment of $40 million over four years, and subsequently the Jordan brand’s commitment of $100 million over ten years, to support Black communities in the United States. So, it was a painful incarnation, but we’ve been able to do really great work with the funding.”
While the panel conversation of the day featured three grant winners, Nike’s black Community Commitment is supporting many more organizations this year and in years to come. I asked about the selection process, and Karol spoke more about the ways that Nike selects organizations to be grant recipients through the Black Community Commitment initiative and the criteria that goes into these selections.
“We have a working group, a Black Community Commitment Task Force. And at the inception of BCC, we really thought through all of the things that affect racial inequality in the United States. And believe me, we had quite the map of concerns. But what it boiled down to were the top three: economic empowerment, education innovation, and social justice reform. Those were three pillars that we could really focus on, and take some effect in our Black community.
And so that’s how we came up with a rubric to decide. We select the organizations, so we have teams across all of our cities where members of these teams live and work (LA, Chicago, Portland, New York, Boston, Memphis, and St. Louis) working on the ground to help understand what is affecting those cities specifically.”
The combined investment of $140 million between Nike & the Jordan Brand, have the power to create great impact in black-owned organizations and business across the nation. This year alone, the financial support of these grant-awarded organizations will amount to $8.9 million in grant awards, with Nike having donated $28.9 million to various organizations since June 2020.
I asked about what the initiative’s support means for the grantees both now and in the future, and Karol spoke to the ways that Nike has always supported Black communities, and what the Black Community Commitment partnerships look like for grantees moving forward. Karol also discussed the future of the initiative.
“As the future goes, I’m not really worried about Nike’s commitment to Black communities, Nike has been invested in the community in different ways.” Karol commented that she’s most excited about “discovering more organizations” that the city teams will look for, and she’s most excited about Nike “being able to continue to elevate Black Communities in the U.S., not just transactionally but transformationally as well”.
Before we adjourned for the day (so that I could return to the dining hall to eat more delicious cheesecake), I asked Karol to speak about what holistic well-being means for the BCC initiative, especially as it related to racial justice and equity.
“You know, I think what we all recognize, and statistics bear it out, is the struggle and effect of racism on our communities. In this specific initiative, it’s thinking about how we get communities on solid economic footing. How we think about civic participation, and how we can be a part of that to help balance and level those playing fields. How we can offer kids other educational opportunities that they may not be able to reach?
So working with a group like Black Girls Code for instance, how many Black girls get access to STEM, right? So to be able to support that whole vision of how we take care of Black community, to me, is holistic well-being. Like, we’re looking at every facet and saying, how are we elevating you? And I love that the BCC fits in through that elevation of folks who are doing the work on the ground, and we can shine a light on them.”
With the Black Community Commitment initiative, Nike is strengthening its support for holistic racial justice and equity, by engaging with, and supporting organizations that are already on the ground and doing the work to uplift the community. Free lunch and Nike gear aside, the high point of the day, in my opinion, was seeing the fierce Black woman panelists, who were each leaders within their respective organizations, using their collaboration with Nike to uplift the Black community.
Nike is supporting several organizations with the initiative, so if you’re interested in learning more, feel free to click the links provided. Nike is working towards enhancing racial justice and equity in ways that one can only hope other, future organizations will follow, or even build upon. So who knows, you could be next!
Vanessa is a third-year graduate student studying Psychology at Rutgers University, with a passion for all thing’s wellness, research, creativity and empathy. In her spare time, Vanessa enjoys learning guitar, reading and writing fiction stories as forms of expression and vulnerability. Vanessa can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.