In the second episode of Arabella Advisors’ new podcast series, Rick Cruz caught up with Nicole Lynn Lewis, community activist and founder and CEO of Generation Hope. The Black Voices for Black Justice Fund recently named Nicole among 31 Black leaders nationally doing extraordinary work. Started by leaders in the philanthropic sector, the Fund aims to help address the race equity gaps in philanthropy and money into the hands of Black leaders who are addressing the largest problems in their communities. Rick talked to Nicole to learn more about Generation Hope, her personal story, and the potential for helping leaders like her create change.
- “I always tell people my story is very intricately linked with the story of Generation Hope. I was a teen mom myself. I got pregnant my senior year of high school ... For me, growing up, college was always a given; my parents raised my sister and I really thinking about college as the next step after high school. I was an honor roll student and college–bound. Even with all that going for me, when people found out I was pregnant, they told me ‘your life is over, you’re not going to college, you’re not going to be successful’. And I thought, ‘now more than ever, it is important for me to get my college degree, because I am going to be a mom.’ So I enrolled at the college of William and Mary when my daughter was just around 3 months old. And I always tell people I stepped foot on the campus and thought, ‘these feet don’t belong here’. I was surrounded by people with a ton of resources and family support, they had no parenting responsibilities. I did, and I didn’t know where my tuition money or my book money was coming from; I was a new mom and a new college student, and I had a lot working against me.”
- “Over the next 4 years I experienced many of the hardships and the challenges that my students experience. Financially it was difficult, and I had to make tough decisions between things like baby wipes or diapers and a textbook for class. I had to figure out how to keep the heat on in the winter and food on the table. And it was difficult emotionally as well; I was an anomaly at William and Mary, and it was hard for other students to understand why I couldn’t come to a study group at 9 pm in the library because I would have a screaming toddler with me. But at the same time it was so transformational. And it just opened me up to new opportunities and experiences.”
- “I walked across the graduation stage in four years with high honors, and my daughter held my hand as we walked across the stage. It was an incredible moment to achieve something that people tell you is impossible.”
- “I loved into the non-profit sector, and without knowing it, really gave myself a training ground for effective non-profit management. I was looking for an organization to volunteer with that focused on college completion for teen parents; and none existed in the DC area. And there were very, very few across the country. I thought to myself, this is something that needs to exist. There was a statistic that just floored me; it was that less than 2 percent of teen moms get a degree before age 30. And I just thought that was unacceptable. So I started Generation Hope really from ground zero to address a gap in services that needed to be addressed.”
- “Generation Hope … supports the whole student … anything that could possibly be going on in the lives of our students, we are there to help them through it, whether it’s a tumultuous relationship … or emergency funding. There is no such thing as ‘that’s not our wheelhouse’.”
- “I often call student parents the invisible population, because we have made great strides in many ways with student groups, but we don’t talk about student parents enough; or the intersectionality between student parents and other groups … We know that parenting college students have higher GPAs than their peers but are less likely to graduate.”
- “[Being recognized for this work by Black Voices for Black Justice Fund] is just an incredible feeling; and it’s a validation of all the hard work we have put in to get to this point [and of] the big visions that we have for the future … Over the past several months in particular, with the national racial reckoning going on, it has reinforced how hard it really is to do this work and be up against oppression that’s been in place forever ... It’s such an encouragement, a recognition, a validation, and it is, particularly for the work that I do, so important that teen mothers, teen fathers, single parents, feel like they have been seen and validated and encouraged with this award.”
To learn more, listen in on Nicole’s full conversation with Rick here.