Just two weeks ago, the usually quiet city turned upside down after Keith Lamont Scott was killed in broad daylight by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer. Protesters flocked to the streets of Uptown calling for the release of body camera footage in Scott's death. A short time later, the tension reared an ugly head, yet again, as a man was shot and killed during a demonstration.
Even if business is as usual, there is still work to be done in Charlotte. Jania Massey is doing her part in making that happen.
The North Carolina native was recently named as the first U.S. based Global Advocate fellow for Mama Hope, a nonprofit dedicated to sustainable growth and ending poverty in communities around the world. The organization supports and trains entrepreneurs to complete a wide range of projects covering health, education, food, and more.
Mama Hope has impacted more than 150,000 individuals in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, and Guatemala.
Now, Massey is an extension of their global outreach to the United States. Her work will impact Grier Heights, one of the oldest African-American communities in Charlotte. As once reported by The Charlotte Observer, the area earned a reputation for notorious violent crime at a rate averaging five times higher than the city alone. As efforts are made to improve an overall turnaround for the commity, Massey says she's excited to roll up her sleeves and assist to the best of her abilities.
"I love how this community is over 100 years old and has historic landmark with Billingsville Middle School. This was two acres of land given by Samuel Billings, ex-slave and farmer, to build a middle school which is now the Grier Heights Community Center," she said. "Arthur Grier was also the heart of Grier Heights, being an entrepreneur and creating opportunities for African Americans."
Her fellowship runs for 9 months which includes hands-on implementation including project development, fundraising, and opportunities to work in conjunction with community leaders.
Photo: Jania Massey
Massey elaborated more on her work saying, "The goal of the youth entrepreneurship program is to create one business to produce sustainability within the community. But I also want to change the perspective of entrepreneurship exposing the opportunities that lies ahead when you work together and believe in yourself."
In the wake of recent events in Charlotte, Massey says she noticed an immediate reaction in the youth she works with.
"To be honest, things like this happen in the community often. We have ladies who have experienced tragedies like this at a young age. They are still trying to process and grieve on top of balancing school, home life and social life," she said. "One thing I can say for sure, they all have a servant heart and a voice to help the community and find the solution. Every time I interact with them, I feel they really are thinking about how to make a impact and change the perspective."
During a recent retreat with local girls, Massey said their reflection is one that speaks volumes for the entire city.
"We had a moment during the retreat where each girl had an hour of quiet time to reflect on questions about God, the protest and shooting, body image etc. Once quiet time was over, we came back together to have a discussion and one of the young ladies said she noticed hummingbirds and how they flew together. She wanted to know why people didn't fly together," Massey recalled. "Not only was her observation accurate but her question spoke volumes. Once I came back from the retreat, I saw how the peaceful protest was still in action and it made me smile. I thought about all the people I've worked with over the years and the things we produced together. If people just stop being angry about how people chose to deal with this recurring situation and put not only a plan into action, be the difference. This would speak volumes to our community."
A self-proclaimed "help-preneur", Massey finds her passion rooted in connecting the dots for individuals in bringing their ideas into fruition.
"My motto has always been if you can’t find it, create it for yourself. I think it is awesome to be an entrepreneur but I think it is awesome to work for someone if it’s using your strength and passion. You have to decide what works for your lifestyle and purpose," she said. "Please believe if Oprah called me today to go work for her using my strength and skills, I would be reporting to work with the same smile on my face I have working for myself."
In addition to entrepreneurship, Massey is dedicated to her love of philanthropy. She is the founder of Philanthropy Circle 365 (PC Group 365), a nonprofit that helps smaller nonprofits with event planning, promotional marketing, volunteer outreach and nonprofit management.
"I volunteer often and I rarely see people that look like me volunteering. Having this constant visual inspired me to start my own nonprofit, PC Group 365 to show how #givingidope and you should #gethooked. It has been time to change the conversation in philanthropy and the time is now to take action."
Although she juggles many projects, Massey is all about furthering the city and her own personal development.
"Honestly, I feel like I am in a Spike Lee movie and floating through a scene," she laughs. "It can be a lot of pressure to deliver consistently on the daily basis when you are working for someone and yourself. Even though you may aim to do your best daily, each day has a different level of how great we are and can be. I am still figuring things out but that is a daily question, Jania what is the plan? I am just excited how the answer changes hour by hour, day by day, week by week."
As for other entrepreneurs looking to find their fit, Massey said, "My advice would be to figure out what you want to do and if it doesn’t align with your purpose, figure out how to make it align."