For this week’s first MOAM installment, I’d to spotlight to two young women that have taken it upon themselves to raise awareness to the need for the performing arts in schools nationwide. With their organization, their goal is to create a platform to celebrate all varieties of the arts in the New Jersey and New York communities, all the while providing high school and college students with financial assistance through scholarships. I remain so proud of the work that these ladies are doing, and I can’t wait for you to learn more about their mission.
Meet the ladies of Epitome of Soul.
Natasha Benjamin and Nailah Butler are both graduates of Syracuse University, hailing from Brooklyn, New York and Patterson, New Jersey respectively. Nailah studied marketing management and supply chain management, and also had the opportunity to live abroad in Hong Kong for five months. Natasha majored in political science, African-American studies and minored in public communications. She also received her master’s degree from New York University in public relations and corporate communications. Whether it was dance or music, the performing arts has impacted Natasha and Nailah’s lives greatly since their childhood, thus encouraging them to launch Epitome of Soul and encourage other young people to pursue their love for the arts as well.
CC: What was the process you both took in order to establish the organization, and why did you both think it was important to focus on the arts for high school and college students? What type of programming do you offer these students, and how do they learn more on how to get involved with Epitome of Soul?
EOS: “Natasha and I both have a love for the arts,” said Nailah. “Our passions for the arts and desire to give back are really want inspired the birth of Epitome of Soul.” Natasha also agrees, and understands how crucial the lack of creativity can have on a child’s development. “Through budget cuts and governmental shifts, the arts are becoming non-existent in schools nationwide,” Natasha cited. “The arts play such a crucial role in the educational and cultural development of our youth, and minority population schools decreased their arts funding in response to the demands of No Child Left Behind. And this number is still rising.” They’ve realized how important it was to sustain the arts in school communities and so, Epitome of Soul was born June 12, 2012.
“Like any new nonprofit organization, you face start-up challenges – building finance, a powerful network and donor pool,” Natasha said. “However, through those challenges we’ve been able to learn and grow.”
One of the duo’s goals is to impact thousands of students’ lives through their programs, which are: the Educational Advocacy Program, the Epitome of Soul Mentorship Program (ESMP), and the Scholarship Program. “All of these programs were created to better serve high school inner city arts students,” Nailah said. “Our current partnership is with Rosa L. Parks School of Fine & Performing Arts in Paterson, New Jersey.”
CC: Who are some of your role models in world of philanthropy/community development, and what’s one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from them? With both of you working 9 to 5 jobs, how do you both find time to plan, promote and execute events for Epitome of Soul?
EOS: Dorothy I. Height, Dr. Maya Angelou, George Soros and Toni Morrison are just a few of our inspirations in the world of philanthropy. In their own unique way, each individual made an impact on their community through the giving of their money and time. “George Soros has given over $7 billion to date, and his philanthropy definitely inspires me to do more on a national and global scale,” Nailah said. “I may not be able to give millions (yet), but I can give my time, and that’s refreshing.”
“For me,” Natasha stated, “both Height and Morrison (along with other influences) taught me the power of blending your passions to effectively build your community.”
Nailah currently works as a marketing consultant, and schedule flexibility allows her to dedicate time during the day to Epitome of Soul. By day, Natasha works with over 18 social media accounts handling content marketing, editorial calendars and digital analytics. While that may seem like a lot, she’s been blessed to work remotely allowing her to create her own schedule, and make sufficient time for Epitome of Soul. The team consists of Natasha, Nailah and Synita Butler, their program coordinator. Together, they all understand that sacrifices need to be made for their organization. Since they are all busy with separate endeavors, it is understood that some nights they may have to stay up a little later or even wake up early on the weekends before the “turn up.”
CC: Congratulations on the success of last year’s inaugural benefit concert! What lessons did you learn from that event, and how did you apply them to the upcoming Epitome of Soul Gala? What can attendees expect from this year’s event, and how can they support if they are unable to attend?
EOS: Thank you! When raising money for our scholarships and the overall development of our organization, our main resource has been individual donors. Since our inauguration, we have put on a few fundraisers (two benefit concerts, a holiday telethon, arts symposium, etc.) From each fundraiser, we learn something new about our network. For this holiday gala, we created a ticket point system to get individuals to purchase tickets early. That way we know how to, if we need to, alter our budget for the particular event or our surrounding programs. In addition to our ticket point system, we provided partnership opportunities with small businesses and local organizations to increase our reach.
The upcoming Holiday Gala is an event that you do not want to miss! There will be performances by 3 accomplished and talented feature artists, live entertainment, raffle prizes, and much more. However, if you are unable to attend the gala, new, and old, supporters can join us in our upcoming 25 Days of Giving campaign (#ES25Days), launching on December 1st. We will be celebrating the season of giving by providing educational workshops, fundraising events, and fun learning activities for students.
To Natasha and Nailah, to be “Millennials on a Mission” means to actively pursue whatever inspires you. It means to love building communities, cultivating the next generation and diligently taking the necessary steps to create the change that we need in our society. Their advice to their fellow millennial entrepreneurs? JUST GO FOR IT! Initially, Natasha and Nailah came together to plan for their inaugural benefit concert, which was intended to be a one-time event, but they soon realized there was a larger challenge to take on. Meetings in the New York Public Library at Bryant Park went from planning an inaugural event to developing a nonprofit. They dived in, walked in their purpose and never looked back. “Breakthroughs happen when you follow your dreams, and that’s something you don’t want to miss out on.”