SEM Link wins grant to narrow gaps in health, wealth, and opportunity for Atlanta youth
The funding—part of a partnership between the Foot Locker Foundation and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC)—is designed to bridge gaps in health, wealth, and upward mobility driven by racial inequity and to promote youth empowerment and community wellness—all while supporting community-based organizations led by people of color.
"STEM is an area in which Black people are historically excluded, which means there are individuals that are intellectually capable of pursuing a career in STEM," said Ms. Tokiwa T. Smith, founder and executive director of SEM Link. "However, due to racial inequities and systemic racism in education and the STEM fields, Black students were either not academically prepared to pursue STEM, not encouraged to pursue STEM careers and/or were pushed out of the field during their educational journey. Our work as an organization is to encourage the next generation of Black STEM professionals through exposure and engagement: exposure to positive Black role models in STEM, exposure to STEM careers and engagement in hands-on STEM activities."
For both LISC and Foot Locker, Inc., the Community Empowerment Program is part of larger national efforts focused on economic opportunity and racial equity. The program is part of LEED (Leading Education and Economic Development)
"Movements that create equitable, longstanding change are often rooted in local issues," said Tai Neal, Vice President, LEED Strategy, Foot Locker, Inc. "In the heart of these movements are where we find community organizations working to disrupt systems that create inequities, limiting access to resources and opportunities alike. The Community Empowerment Program empowers organizations to drive impact beyond their normal capabilities and invests in communities that have been underserved for far too long."
SEM Link is one of 20 organizations funded through the second round of the Community Engagement Program, which awarded grants ranging from $30,000-$100,000 each. The program builds on LISC and Foot Locker's shared goal to inspire and empower youth, and it responds to clear and persistent racial disparities that even extend to philanthropic funding. For example, research from Bridgespan and Echoing Green found that unrestricted net assets of Black-led organizations are 76 percent smaller than those of similarly situated white-led groups, making it more difficult to operate their organizations and grow their impact.
"These disparities are, in part, the result of decades of overt racism," said Lisa Glover, LISC CEO. "But there is also an unconscious bias at work, and it has a stranglehold on opportunity for tens of thousands of BIPOC families, organizations, businesses and communities. That's why this Foot Locker program is so important," she continued. "It is specifically designed to address these systemic gaps in ways that not only benefit young people, but strengthen the organizations that serve them as well."
Since its inception in 2005, SEM Link has been focused on racial equity in STEM education and outreach. Hence, the organization being named SEM Link, because the essence of its work is connecting youth to the STEM community and positive adult role models in STEM. The organization has had a positive impact on Metro Atlanta youth through programs and events in which more than 500 STEM professionals have exposed some 15,000 youth to more than 60 different STEM career paths as well as supported hundreds of young STEM researchers.
In 2021, SEM Link established its first community-based STEM initiative, STEM at The Ke'nekt, a collaboration with The Ke'nekt, a Black liberated thirdspace in the Westview neighborhood in Atlanta. STEM at The Ke'nekt programming, which serves youth in the Westview/West End neighborhoods in Atlanta, consists of STEM literacy activities, citizen science projects, and hands-on STEM activities. The funding from LISC and Foot Locker will support the expansion of this programming with facility upgrades and programming support. The facility upgrades include adding technology to the Creation Stations to make it a space for local youth to work on homework and STEM projects. The grant also will support the STEM literacy initiatives and hands-on STEM activities. Finally, the grant will enable SEM Link to purchase a used school bus that will be outfitted to serve as a mobile STEM lab to teach youth laboratory and research skills in engineering, environmental sciences, and physical sciences.
About SEM Link
Science, Engineering and Mathematics Link Inc. (SEM Link) is a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization founded in 2005 by Tokiwa T. Smith in Atlanta, Georgia on the premise that exposure to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) community is critical to inspiring K-12 students to pursue STEM careers. Our programs and events increase youth awareness of STEM careers by providing them with adult role models, facilitating their participation in STEM research, and enabling hands-on activities and digital learning. For more information about SEM Link visit our website at www.semsuccess.org or email us at email@example.com.
About Foot Locker, Inc.
Foot Locker, Inc. is a leading footwear and apparel retailer that unlocks the "inner sneakerhead"
LISC is one of the country's largest community development organizations, helping forge vibrant, resilient communities across America. We work with residents and partners to close systemic gaps in health, wealth and opportunity and advance racial equity so that people and places can thrive. Since our founding in 1979, LISC has invested $29.7 billion to create more than 489,000 affordable homes and apartments, develop 81.5 million square feet of retail, community and educational space and help tens of thousands of people find employment and improve their finances. For more, visit www.lisc.org.
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