The following piece was written by Enwongo Ekah, a dynamic young professional from Nigeria pursuing a master's degree in public policy at the University of Maryland. She is a dreamer, transformer and optimistic visionary passionate about impact and believes any dream is achievable. She hopes to create a driven community of dedicated individuals who understands the need to inspire, mentor, grant opportunities and shape the next generation of young Black women. The principles that guide her life are discipline, commitment, courage, love and sacrifice. Outside of school, Enwongo is an avid reader, explorer and adventurer who enjoys making people laugh.
“Greatness comes when you are consumed by a call to make a commitment that may mean your very life.” This is one of the quotes I have lived by since I was fourteen after reading Robert Schuller’s “Be an Extraordinary Person in an Ordinary World.” Somehow that quote stuck with me because I was always yearning for something bigger than myself, my background and my hometown. Growing up, I constantly sought ways to help those around me: assisting the elderly in my community, walking unattended kids to their homes, grocery shopping for sick neighbors without support systems and tutoring young girls. I was drawn to peoples’ needs and developed a culture of service to support those needs. But, of course, I didn’t understand the impact I was making then. I just wanted to lend a helping hand. Even though I grew up in a small town in Nigeria that could barely be found on a map, I knew there was more outside of my cocoon.
As a young girl, I feared that my life would be decided for me. For me, education was my way out. However, it was a luxury I couldn’t afford, but I would try. I remember my mother saying, “I don’t want you to have an education for you alone. I want you to have an education so that you can create opportunities for other young girls.” That became my why! My mother was a woman with only a high school education who believed in me, and after her death, nothing propelled me more. If I could do it, those young girls who looked like me and came from similar backgrounds and hometowns as I did would believe in the impossible. That is the impact I want to create.
My enthusiasm for social impact led me to the United States to get a master's degree in public policy. So I wasn’t surprised when my social entrepreneurship professor said, “social impact begins with the personal.” In the last two years here, I have grappled with my identity as a Black non-American woman with an accent and a name people can barely pronounce. Grappling with these intersections made me redefine my goals, the societal issues I want to address and the practical experiences I need.
To gain practical experience and more insight into the world of social impact in the United States, I applied to the Do Good Institute’s Impact Intern program last summer I was matched with the Young, Black & Giving Back Institute (YBGB), an organization that prepares the next generation of young, Black professionals for effective community leadership and philanthropy. The organization, led by School of Public Policy Associate Clinical Professor Ebonie Cooper, created Give 8/28 to establish a giving day dedicated to grassroots, Black-led and Black-benefiting nonprofits to help expand services and programs and build capacity.
The Black community has suffered generations of systemic racism, bias and police brutality, as the world saw in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a police officer. Being Black in America is like constantly being on trial with no end. As Chimamanda Adichie says, “American society has imposed the burden of negative stereotypes on Blackness.” Blackness is not the problem. Black is beautiful. Racism is the problem. As advocates, grassroots organizers, community leaders, philanthropists, nonprofit leaders and social impact entrepreneurs, Black people have always persevered with grit, resiliency and limited resources to pursue social justice issues, address problems and create a sustainable, replicable and long-lasting impact in their communities.
Racial inequality and marginalization have made financial resources challenging to access. Yet, these resources are critical to creating change and propelling the Black community forward. As an Impact Intern, I was part of an all-women team working with more than 270 Black-led nonprofit organizations registered to participate in Give 8/28. I vetted and registered all of the participating nonprofits and handled external communication with our stakeholders. Throughout the summer, I gained experience in fundraising, engaging with donors and sponsors, the decision-making process and managing social projects.
This year’s Give 8/28 stretched over five days, allowing donors more time to pledge their support. We raised more than $252,000 with the support of more than 1,000 donors and amazing sponsors. After this experience, I am more motivated than ever to create lasting change. My experience working with these organizations solidifies my belief that real social impact is never about quantity but quality.
You may not be able to change the entire world, but you can change a slice of your small world.
The Institute has been a proud sponsor of Give 8/28 for three years, offering prizes during several “power hours” throughout the day to further incentivize Maryland nonprofits to participate. Young, Black & Giving Back has raised more than $670,000 over the last three giving days. Want to learn more? Follow Young, Black & Giving Back on Instagram or check out their website.