Countering the social and economic challenges faced by the Black community means investing in systemic change which addresses the root causes of racism and disinvestment, which have disproportionately impacted Black communities.

“Philanthropy is the vehicle that launches, supports and allows community driven and co-designed solutions to actually be birthed,” said Kim Watson, Founder and Executive Director of Project Joy Inc. “Without the funding and support from our philanthropic partners, great ideas are not able to materialize into actual services and programs that our community needs to be empowered and to thrive.”

Ensuring that Black-led and Black-empowering organizations throughout Los Angeles County have the resources and long-term infrastructure to thrive is behind the California Community Foundation’s (CCF) Black Empowerment Fund, which launched in February of 2021.

Project Joy Inc., a grantee of the Black Empowerment Fund, works to empower, educate, and encourage the most vulnerable youth and families. The grant from the Fund is allowing Project Joy to “create jobs, sustain life changing programs, increase joy and deepen [their] career services to the youth and families in [the] community.”

“Philanthropy is the vehicle that launches, supports and allows community driven and co-designed solutions to actually be birthed…”

— Kim Watson,
Founder & Executive Director of Project Joy Inc.

KIm Watson

The ability to directly impact youth, who will be able to participate in programs like Youth AI (artificial intelligence) Career Learning Program, which increases confidence, mental wellness, job readiness and career awareness is critical during the pandemic.

“The biggest challenges we have seen working with youth during the pandemic centers around mental wellness,” Kim shared. “This can be due to a variety of factors including social isolation along with stress and anxieties due to COVID-19.”

Youth AI teaches youth how to deal with their mental health. Guadalupe Garcia, a graduate of the program shared, “I have gained so much knowledge in this program about so many different things, one of them being how to deal with mental health in positive ways.”

The program also addresses educational, social and economic equity. Participants are given a stipend, which removes barriers. Without the stipend, time is a limited resource, youth would have to choose between working or participating in a program that can enhance their future. The stipend is an equitable solution to this challenge.

After graduating from the program, youth have a clear understanding of how artificial intelligence is impacting their lives and their future careers. According to surveys and testimonials, graduates experience a tremendous amount of growth in self-confidence, self-awareness and self-empowerment after graduating from the program. They leave the program with a support group of guest speakers to connect with and have completed resumes in hand. And many of the youth continue to practice mental wellness exercises learned in the program.

“I initially thought that it was just a class about AI. The program was much more than that. [Project Joy Youth AI] teaches you resume building, tips on interviews, social skills, and how AI functions and how it’s being applied to the real world today,” said Jaleel Gray, an 18-year-old graduate of the program. “Because of this program I gained communication skills, adaptability, teamwork and leadership skills.”

When asked – Why AI? Kim says, “learners of color need to be literate and aware of what AI is and its implications. It is critical to have diversity and various perspectives in the AI career field to protect against bias and ensure that the best interests of all people are considered in the development and design process.”