Crime has consistently been a major challenge for decades in New York City and other urban communities around the world, with young men of color being disproportionate victims as well as offenders. Reports prevail of young black men being more likely to be at the wrong end of a homicide than their white counterparts, especially during a time where substantial educational and employment resources have become less and less accessible.
A shooting in 2007 brought two young women together for a common goal. Touched by the unfortunate happenings in their own Harlem neighborhood, Tiffany Bender and Alize Beal decided to be agents of change, and in 2008, founded Y.U.N.G Harlem, a non-profit organization that provides advocacy and leadership resources for the city’s youth.
The women, now 23-year-old media and marketing professionals, respectively, said enough is enough, and have dedicated their lives to empowering urban youth through interactive events, mentorship, and education. Honored as brilliant leaders by BET’s 3rd annual “Black Girls Rock” awards, best friends Bender and Beal strive to continue to provide a positive alternative for youth in urban communities to succeed.
BlackEnterprise.com caught up with the two power women to talk about how they turned tragedy into a movement and how other young professionals can use their skills and professional positions to spark movements of their own.
BlackEnterprise.com: You both are young professionals pursuing your own professional goals in the media and marketing industries post college. What was your inspiration to start Y.U.N.G. Harlem?
Bender: I was one of those youths who believed, ‘Well, it hasn’t happen to me,’ so I was desensitized to it. But when my brother was shot in 2007, I would never wish that experience on my enemy. When Alize and I got back to Harlem that summer, we realized it was a larger problem and we had to do something about it.
Beal: We were on the phone that summer complaining to each other, saying that it shouldn’t be like this. Why do we have to have these things happen? We thought we should do something positive and decided to organize a gala to honor people dealing with gun violence. We got lots of great reviews from that and Y.U.N.G Harlem was born.
I was fortunate to have parents who kept me busy and kept me off the streets. But those who don’t have that, should they suffer, too? We thought, ‘What can we do to help the next generation have the means to do positive things instead of engaging in negative activities?’
You two are both from the same community and have been friends for many years. What’s the dynamic like working with your best friend?
Beal: I can honestly say there’s no cons with working with Tiff. … We play off eachother’s strengths and personalities. I’m more of the quiet one and she’s bubbly. I’m the business mind, and she’s the social butterfly. That helps us. Even in terms of our personalities, I’m shrewed and straight to the point. Tiff has the sensitive side. She pulls my coattails when I need to soften up, and I pull hers when she needs to be more stern. And we’re friends first. We know how to separate business from our friend time. When you find a friend you can work with, that’s a blessing. Some friends you can’t work with or do business with.
Bender: We’re lucky enough to be friends and be equally passionate about the mission. We turn our everyday occurrences into how we can be an aid for the community. We’re always thinking of ways to do that, and I’m lucky to be able to do that with my best friend.
As young professionals, why do you two feel it important to reach back and impact the community?
Beal: My siblings and I were never too young to help someone. Many of the things we were given were because someone reached out and gave back to help us.
Bender: [Young people often] have the notion that you have to wait to reach a certain point in life to be able to help anyone, but that’s not true. Even just having a mindset of reaching back, you don’t have to wait until you make a million or you’ve reached a certain point.
I could have been one of those people who said, ‘This is never going to change so, oh well.’ But you can change things for the better, and if you can you will. Being connected spiritually to know that everything is by design— if something is put on your head and in your heart, you have to act on it. If you fail, you inspired somebody somewhere, so it’s really not a full failure. You have to take that leap of faith.
What advice do you have for other young people who seek to start their own nonprofit organizations or community movements?
Beal: Research. When Tiff and I started, we didn’t have an idea of the legal side of things. We didn’t do our research and ended up having to get into legal battle about our name. Before you pick up in promoting your business, find out information on copyrights [and other applicable business documents.]
Also, have a good team. Many times people feel they can do it on their own, because you have a good idea, but in order to get things done, you have to have strong team that believes in your goals and your leadership.
Bender: Networking is vital, but you must be strategic and go at it with purpose. When we first started, we wanted to go to everything and meet everybody, and we burned out. Attend networking events with a game plan. Know who’s in the room. Research on Twitter and figure out the types of people you want to talk to.
Second, trust the process. Wherever you are in life figure out what it is you’re supposed to be learning. You may be in a position or faced with a situation and want to give up or don’t understand why. You should be learning and understanding how your circumstances play a part in the process to success—the bigger picture. One of the things a mentor of mine, Devon Franklin, said in his book, Produced by Faith, is that people can be on the expedited track to career success, but when you get there, you may not be prepared. What would make you successful if you tried to skip steps? You learn via the process.