In August, Jordon Rooney stood in the streets of Charlottesville, interviewing people who were marching to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. As Neo-Nazis and white supremacists streamed by waving Confederate flags, with swastikas emblazoned on shields and t-shirts, Rooney captured it all on video.
“What do you think about those people who got hit?” Rooney asked one man, referring to the car that struck a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 other people.
The man shrugged his shoulders. “They deserved it.”
Rooney is not a journalist, he notes. “I’m looking to make a statement and stand up to racism.”
One week, nine million views and 100,000 shares later, that video put Rooney’s organization, Never Fear Being Different (NFBD), on the map. Rooney had been disillusioned with social media and it’s enormous and often negative effect on youth. So he made it a goal to reach youth through social media in a more positive way, engaging viewers to come up with solutions to big societal problems.
His message resonated not only with viewers but also with the crowd last Thursday at the SVP Pittsburgh Full Circle Impact Accelerator Pitch Event. Rooney was one of five who made a pitch for his nonprofit and he won the audience choice prize of $500.
Involvement in the Full Circle Accelerator automatically grants each of the five organizations $2,000 in unrestricted funding.
This year, it also afforded an opportunity to get an additional $1,000 from sponsor NexTier Bank at the Pitch Event. That award was split between two nonprofits that pitched at the event: Prototype PGH and Ujamaa.
The other two organizations pitching at the event were The Global Switchboard and Alliance for Police Accountability. (More on what all of these organizations do is below.)
“Ujamaa Collective’s participation in the Full Circle Program truly was right on time for us because we were at the precipice of making some really important decisions as a nonprofit,” Executive Director LaKeisha Wolf said of the organization’s 10-year presence in Pittsburgh.
Wolf said their goal for 2018 is to close their Hill District boutique space and create a schedule of pop-up shopping locations and programs.
“The boutique has been so much of our identity and means so much to so many people, but the rising overhead costs, as well as a few other factors, was stifling our growth,” she said.
“We are truly passionate about fair trade and are looking to strengthen our economic relationships with international artisans, connecting women with purpose across the world. Ultimately we want to do all of these things in order to increase women’s confidence and skills so that we take up more space in tech and entrepreneurship,” she added.
Erin Gatz of Prototype PGH said the organization’s top goals include hiring their first staff person, finalizing their 501c3 status, which includes on-boarding their first board of directors and partnering with more organizations, like Ujamaa, on workshops and programming.
The Pitch Event was the culmination of an intense, three-and-a-half-month program to help nonprofits like NFBD refine their missions and learn how to meet specific goals within their organizations through coaching by SVP partners.
According to Ryan Gayman, who co-manages the Full Circle program with Ben Utter, the Full Circle accelerator presents a hands-on model for philanthropy that unlocks the private sector’s social networks, skills and expertise to help take nonprofits to the next level. Essentially, they act as a connector.
“Pittsburgh is the birthplace of American philanthropy,” Gayman said. “With the concentration of philanthropic foundations, labor unions, nonprofits and impact-driven businesses in the region, it’s important that there is an accelerator that is exclusively focused on bridging sectors to ultimately help the leading nonprofit businesses have a greater impact in tackling our region’s most critical challenges.”
Here is more information about the five nonprofit organizations involved in the Full Circle Impact Accelerator and who pitched at the event:
Alliance for Police Accountability: A grassroots organization dedicated to criminal justice reform. Brandi Fisher presented at the event and said the group takes a holistic approach, not only advocating for change, but working to educate the public and push for policy change, specifically within the disciplinary systems at schools where simple infractions like “child was disruptive in class” can lead to jail time.
The Global Switchboard: The region’s hub for global issues, the organization is designing an innovative initiative that will bring leaders from across sectors together to tackle critical global issues facing local communities in Pittsburgh that will result in a more equitable and just city. Their mission according to Program Coordinator Alaa Mohamed: “To make Pittsburgh the most livable city for all.”
NFBD: Described as a movement to create solution-based conversations around real-world issues, NFBD had 16 million views in September, compared to TED’s 7.9 million and NPR’s 5.9 million.
Prototype PGH: Is the nation’s only maker space and maker education program that focuses on feminism and equity. The organization is expanding their operations in Pittsburgh to accelerate the growth of a more inclusive and equitable maker movement in the region and beyond. “It took founding a maker space with Louise [Larson] to learn how to use a power drill — and she’s the one who taught me,” Erin Gatz said during the pitch.
Ujamaa Collective: The organization works to break down barriers to help Pittsburgh’s Africana women entrepreneurs and artisans find success within their businesses. Colorful sun hats, copper leather bracelets and handmade mini tumblers are just a few of the items shoppers can purchase at Ujamaa.