In honor of tomorrow’s celebration of our nation’s Independence Day, (and knowing that many will probably be taking Friday off) I’ve decided to bring you all this week’s “Millennials on a Mission” spotlight two days earlier. To begin, I truly do admire the hard work and dedication of these two young women to make a difference in their community. Since its inception in 2008, Y.U.N.G. Harlem has evolved tremendously, received numerous accolades including the Black Girls Rock! M.A.D. Girls honor and IMPACT-DC’s Champions of Change award– but remains true to its mission: “to restore community integrity among the youth of the communities in which we serve.”
I’d like to introduce you to the ladies behind Y.U.N.G. Harlem.
Tiffany Bender and Alize Beal met in high school when they were just 16 years old, and discovered that they had more wanting to pass the SAT. “After the test was done, we walked up to one another and began to make conversation, which lasted for three hours,” Alize recalls. “We had so much in common: we both were in the running to become Posse scholars, we both wanted to attend Georgetown and we both loved fashion!” When both young ladies found out that they had been wait-listed at Georgetown University, it only brought them closer together. Tiffany attended Syracuse University where she studied Television, Radio and Film and is now beginning her career in television at NBC Universal; and Alize attended Howard University where she studied International Business and currently works as a technology consultant for major media and advertising companies.
On what inspired the inception of Y.U.N.G. Harlem:
“Prior to attending college I had a personal situation with gun violence that occurred close to home that truly woke up me up to the epidemic that was beginning right under my nose,” Alize says. “After our first year in college, Tiffany and I came home and were faced with a devastating event that occurred that summer. We were truly taken back on why so many of our peers were beginning to lose their lives so young. Harlem is a place that we call home and it was beginning to be taken away from us due to the senseless violence.” So instead of complaining about the problems and negative trends they were seeing, Tiffany and Alize decided they were going to do something about it. During Summer 2008, they hosted a gala that honored people in their community that were doing positive things to combat violence. “When I think about where we are today and where we started it is sort of emotional,” Tiffany recalls. “I remember sitting in my aunt’s office planning the gala, not having any clue on how to reach out to speakers and being rejected by tons of people — fast forward to and we are way more knowledgeable on how to run effective events and our network has grown tremendously.”
Like all non-profit organizations, a major challenge that Y.U.N.G. Harlem still faces is growing financially. “Tiffany and I both love what we do and what our organization stands for,” Alize says. “It’s because of this we tend to stray away from doing things for the money. But after speaking with trusted advisers, leaders and mentors in the non-profit sector, the ladies have decided to take a new approach in how they operate their business. “In fact one of our board members put it this way,” Tiffany says, “the only difference between a non-profit and for-profit is that your product is the empowerment of the community.”
On what sets Y.U.N.G. Harlem apart, and plans for the future:
Both Alize and Tiffany have proudly embraced their youth and have used it to their advantage in the past few years of growing Y.U.N.G Harlem. “It is easier for us to relate to the youth of our community because we were just their age all of five years ago,” Alize says. In addition to being able to relate to the youth, they also understand their frustrations with the community because they are from the community. “We understand their concerns and pressures that they face. Tiffany and I are very lucky to have family members that are also very involved in Harlem and because of that, we are able to receive support from the leaders of the Harlem community because they have watched us grow and blossom.” With goals to expand Y.U.N.G. Harlem to Philadelphia, D.C., Chicago and Atlanta, Tiffany and Alize are working hard to find balance in the midst of their busy professional and personal lives. “I honestly do not know how we do it. We have very busy schedules but we make it work,” Tiffany says. “Our team is very flexible with us and they have A LOT of patience! Between Skype, Facetime, and social media we are always connected to one another.”
While Alize and Tiffany both define the term “Millennial on a Mission” differently, they ultimately believe it is what they’ve been charged to do. “As a “Millennial on a Mission” you are not afraid of failure nor are you afraid of going against the norm,” Alize says. “Impossible does not exist–that word is a real as Santa clause!” Tiffany couldn’t agree more. ” It means getting up everyday and doing everything you could ever dream,” Tiffany states. “If it means changing the world – you’ve got to do it. Once you see a wrong in the world you have an obligation to do something about it – if not, you’re selling yourself and society short.”