By Dianne Anderson
Some of the more popular advice that Kayla Booker remembers hearing all the way up through adulthood never panned out for most people she saw in her community, herself included.
Going to college, buying a house, and having a family looked good in theory, but seemed out of reach for her generation. Things weren’t going quite the way the adults said it would go in the Black community.
More than anything, she wanted to help others avoid some of that youthful confusion in the coming of age.
She wants to help others find their way.
“After 18, I went through feeling lost and sometimes we’re pushed in this hole. I wanted to open the door for other African Americans that were also told about that American Dream – the one that we didn’t get in,” said Booker, who is now 27.
Since her teen years, some doors may have opened along the way, but she said the community missed out. She feels that society is bent on seeing Black people reach their nadir before they access the most basic essentials.
“They make us go all the way to the bottom to get help. You have to get to the lowest point,” said Kayla Booker, a small business owner, and founder of Black Leaders Achieving Culture Knowledge (B.L.A.C.K.) Collective.
In the long run, she hopes to rebuild and expand “the village” by working with local youth to adults, ages 15 to 35. She holds live and virtual workshops, along with classes for budding Black entrepreneurs to learn to present their business to the world.
On May 15, the community is also invited out to hear local psychologist and marriage and family therapist Dr. Niedha Welch, a featured guest at the mental health workshop. The community is invited to register for “Real Talk” luncheon event held from 2-4:00 p.m.
In the last couple of years, the community is still dealing with post-pandemic, continued unemployment, lack of housing and skyrocketing rent. Many are stressed, and the event looks to promote the idea of mental health services. Meetings are occasionally held at the Women’s Club in downtown Riverside.
“Basically, a lot within our Black community don’t believe in mental health. We want to refresh that negative narrative and let them know how mental health affects you in everyday life,” she said.
The event features That Yoga Dude, who will show all the right moves, how to breathe, and keys to de-stress and infusing a healthy regimen into daily life.
“It’s just support and love on each other, and be proud to know who we are as Black folks. Look at our history of Black people, it’s just beautiful,” she said.
In the past, her program’s entrepreneurs event was well-received, celebrating local Black men for their business acumen and success. It’s all about leaving the competition behind and connecting with friends.
“Black men really don’t have that support system like a lot of Black women,” she said. “They got to come out and meet other men who are entrepreneurs with their same struggle so they can relate.”
The collective is growing the community toward self-sufficiency. Her team of seven in the program works to gather and share resources as information is not circulating to those who need it most.
“I told everybody about rental assistance, a lot of people didn’t know, and a lot of people did get help, some were too late. That’s a problem in the African American community. There are resources out there, but we’re the last to get it,” she said.
Every two months, she pulls events together with barbecues, Zoom, or workshops. They are now preparing for Juneteenth, and taking vendor applications. They will have performers, fashion shows, and a kids corner, to be hosted at White Park.
Booker feels her best achievement was answering the call to address a need that was hard to find in her youth social circles – a nurturing environment.
“I said nobody else is going to do it. I might as well do it,” she said.
Booker was one of 16 nonprofit groups funded in the first round of $740,000 in grants awarded earlier this year through a partnership by the IE Black Equity Fund, IE Funders Alliance and Inland Empire Community Foundation.
The money was right on time. Before funding, she and her mom, Denise Booker, were digging deep in pocket to keep the program running. She said that the new money is helping a lot.
“I haven’t had to come out of pocket. Every event has been funded, thank the Lord,” she said.
Probably one of the best aspects of the program is when she attends IEGives meetings to talk about support and services, it feels like home.
“Everyone in the room is Black and they’re all talking about the same struggle. We were underfunded and we do so much work. There is so much work I’ve seen from this funding, it’s amazing for us to have that – finally.”
To register for events, and Juneteenth vendor applications, email Theblackcollective6@gmail.com
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