Workplace Innovations · · 15 min read

14 Social Entrepreneurs of Color Making History Through Social Innovation

Black History Month is an integral part of our nation’s history in which we are intentional about having a conversation about the critical role that black people have played in the making of America.  Even though Black History Month is every month (every day really) in my eyes, when this particular


Black History Month is an integral part of our nation’s history in which we are intentional about having a conversation about the critical role that black people have played in the making of America.

Even though Black History Month is every month (every day really) in my eyes, when this particular holiday comes around, it makes me truly reflect on how far we’ve come as people and provides the chance to focus on different aspects of our narrative.

All too often, negative aspects of black culture and communities are predominantly emphasized. We hear about incarceration rates, high school dropout rates and poverty rates. We are flooded with images of entertainers and athletes as paradigms of success for black people and are constantly subjugated to unfair assumptions and stereotypes.

During Black History Month, it’s common to recognize historical icons such as Martin Luther King, Malcom X and Madam CJ Walker, that we sometimes even forget to recognize those that are a history in the making and paving the way for a better future.

Last year, I was humbled by the opportunity to be featured in Causeartist’s list of 20 Inspiring African Americans Impacting The World Through Social Impact & Social Innovation for my efforts with SocialGive. In honor of Black History Month this year, I wanted to highlight 14 social entrepreneurs I’ve engaged with who are perpetuating the narrative of black social innovation and catalyzing change within their community. These motivating individuals inspire me to continue to be an agent of change and I had the opportunity to hear more on what inspires them individually.

Kelly Burton – Founder of Nexus Research Group/Founders of Color

Kelly Burton – Founder of Nexus Research Group:Founders of Color

Political scientist, serial entrepreneur, change agent and social critic. Kelly Burton is a modern-day renaissance woman who leads with passion, purpose and vision. She is the Founder of Nexus Research Group, a social impact firm that works with foundations and large-scale non-profits to help them catalyze change in local communities.

She is also the founder of Bodyology, a tech-based apparel company dedicated to creating clothes for active women on-the-go. Her newest venture is Founders of Color (FOC), a digital platform committed to helping minority entrepreneurs grow and scale their businesses. Today, FOC has more than 2,200 users with members ranging from early stage tech startups to multi-million dollar companies.

In addition to her entrepreneurial endeavors, she’s been a regular contributor for HuffPost and served on several local and national boards. She has two hard-earned degrees, a BA from Clark Atlanta University and a PhD from Emory University, both in Political Science.

Who/what motivates you to do the work?

I live with a strong and persistent feeling of indebtedness. Most people would give a limb for the opportunities I’ve had access to. I’m a black woman living in America in 2018 who can do anything I’m big-and-bad enough to do. Therefore, I need to contribute to the creation of a world where more people have access to the sort of opportunity that allows them to do the same – regardless of the demographic boxes they check.

Lee Cooley – Founder of Catalyst Development

Lee Cooley – Founder of Catalyst Development

Lee Cooley is a veteran business owner and self-described tech geek.  He is the Founder and Principal at Catalyst Development Technologies; a digital growth partner for small-medium sized business, non-profits, social ventures, and startups. His professional accolades include a portfolio of over 100 successful mobile app, web development, and software platforms, clients in 5 countries, and a 2nd place finish in a Charlotte, NC pitch competition in 2015.

Lee has worked with several non-profits across the south east throughout his professional career helping organizations grow their member base, volunteer base, and bottom line by improving their digital processes. He established Catalyst Development Technologies in 2015 from his dining room table when he saw a gap in the market. Non-profits have great missions, but don’t always have the tech know how to get the most out of the resources they already have.

As with most non-profits and social ventures, budgets are tight and resources are spread thin. So the Catalyst team uses what already exists or builds new platforms to create a digital infrastructure to help recruit volunteers, increase donations, and support hard working staff. All to help increase the impact of an organization.

Who/what motivates you to do the work?

I’m passionate about seeing organizations grow. It gets me hyped to have Catalyst play even a small role in the success of those non-profits and social ventures we work with! When those organizations scale increase in the number of people that they impact, that’s a win for me. And keeps me coming back to work every day.

Ebonie Johnson Cooper – Founder of the Young, Black and Giving Back Institute

Ebonie Johnson Cooper

Ebonie Johnson Cooper is the Founder and Executive Director of the Young, Black & Giving Back Institute (YBGB). YBGB equips young, black civic leaders with skills needed for effective community leadership and philanthropy through small cohort educational programs. YBGB has helped to prepare over 500 black leaders across the nation for effective fundraising, storytelling, nonprofit governance, board leadership, grassroots organizing and other social impact roles.

Ebonie has been a leading voice on young, black philanthropy for nearly a decade and has facilitated workshops for organizations that include W.K. Kellogg, BoardSource and the American Express NextGen Fellows program. As the creator of the brand and consulting firm Friends of Ebonie, she advises nonprofit organizations, academic institutions, churches and small businesses on diversity and young black philanthropy, millennial giving and social media engagement.

Who/what motivates you to do the work?

My motivation stems from my belief that, with strong training and development, black civic leaders can create sustainable change in a way that will greatly benefit their communities.

Donald Fleurantin – Co-Founder of Geeks Rule/Seedlr Technologies

Donald Fleurantin

Donald Fleurantin Co-Founded Geeks Rule in 2014 which is New York based nonprofit organization that promotes the study of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) among underserved middle and high school students (focus on increasing interest and proficiency in STEM). As Co-Founder, he previously held the roles of Chief Operating Officer and Director of Community Outreach. He also assisted with launching Speaker Series and Geek-for-a-Day programs.

The organization has served over 1000 students in the New York metropolitan area since inception and will soon launch its after-school program. Other than to make being a geek cool, the vision of Geeks Rule is to eliminate the racial, gender and socioeconomic gap in STEM to meet the growing need for STEM professionals in the United States.

While being involved with Geeks Rule, Donald has over 5 years of research experience at Thomson Reuters. Moreover, he is Co-Founder of Seedlr Technologies and committed as an entrepreneur (for-profit and nonprofit sector). As a lifelong geek, his charitable focus is youth empowerment and education access for students from underserved communities which inspired him to start Geeks Rule. Don grew up in Orange, New Jersey and his parents are immigrants from Haiti. He attended high school at Seton Hall Prep and then graduated from Pace University (New York) with a BBA in Finance (Business Honors Program).

Who/what motivates you to do the work?

What motivated me to start Geeks Rule was being a lifelong self-taught “geek” and my passion for technology. My charitable focus is youth empowerment and education access for students from underserved communities which also inspired me to start Geeks Rule.

Alize Garcia – Co-Founder of HBCU Puissance Scholarship Committee

Alize Garcia

Alize Garcia currently serves as the Associate Director of Outreach and Recruitment for Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City. The organization partners with families, volunteers, organizations, and the community to inspire positive change in all.

During her time in this role she has developed 15 new partnerships with corporate African American Employee Resource Groups. These partnerships resulted in an increase of African American volunteers in Brooklyn, South Bronx and Upper Manhattan by 18% in eight months. Over the last year, she has developed and implemented short and long-term recruitment plans for targeting volunteers and youth to ensure an optimal balance of geographic and demographic factors and have created and implemented over 200 community outreach programs and events for corporate sponsors, elected officials, non-profit and civic organizations.

Outside of her career, she has started her own scholarship foundation, HBCU Puissance Scholarship Committee, to assist low income, first generation graduating high school seniors with funding towards their tuition. HBCU Puissance Scholarship has been awarded to over 8 students with $10,000+ in scholarship funds.

Who/what inspires you to do the work?

I’ve always been passionate about helping the youth attain their highest potential by providing them with all of tools necessary to succeed. This passion inspired my urge and desire to end the many opportunity gaps that exist in society for Black and Brown youth. My goal is to create a more equitable future for youth of color in order to even the playing field.

Cortni Grange – Founder of FLYE

Cortni Grange

Cortni Grange was raised in Largo, MD with roots in Jamaica, and graduated from Florida A&M University in 2008. While attending FAMU Grange helped Co-Found Young Rattler Nation. A 501c3 organization which created scholarships for current students and fundraised events for young alumni. Upon graduation Cortni begin a fruitful career in business process consulting with companies such as Procter & Gamble, ADP and CVS Health.

He then transitioned his skills and experiences into the social entrepreneurship arena. Cortni founded FLYE , a youth development non-profit in 2013, became a Dream Director with The Future Project in 2014 and more recently established  Grange Enterprises, a for purpose business centered around the power of connectivity. Cortni has been recognized in publications such as Black Enterprise and USA Today and has been named a 2017 Top Millennial Influencer by The Next Big Thing Movement.

Who/what inspires you to do the work?

My Son! Every since he was born it is like my entire life has been in 6th gear. To experience such pure form love makes you forget about all the complications and anxiety of the worlds we live in. For that alone, there is no slacking off allowed anymore. Rest, of course. But, knowing that this little human depends on me not just for survival but for sanctity is a responsibility I grasp with my whole self.

Manyang Kher – Founder of Humanity Helping Sudan

Manyang Kher – Founder of Humanity Helping Sudan

Manyang’s earliest memories are of war, dead bodies, and of his own uncle trying to save his life. At age 3 Manyang became a refugee of the Sudanese civil war. He is one of The Lost Boys, a group of 20,000 boys who were displaced and orphaned. Manyang’s father was one of the two and a half million people killed and he was separated from his mother and sister. For 13 years he lived in refugee camps along the Sudanese and Ethiopian border, where homelessness, hunger, fear, and abuse were part of his everyday life.

At age 17 Manyang was brought to America where he learned English and eventually enrolled in college. He started Humanity Helping Sudan to improve the lives of Sudanese refugees and attempt to battle the problems of an entire displaced population. Humanity Helping Sudan runs on the ground programs at refugee camps where they provide fishing nets, agricultural programs, and community gardens, reaching 40,000 displaced people. With a college degree in hand, Manyang’s full attention now is on growing his non-profit so he can help more refugees. Recently, Manyang launched a coffee brand called 734 Coffee in May 2016. After the coffee is brought to the US, 80% of all profit go right back to refugee education and training project in Gambella.

Who/what inspires you to do the work?

I first began the Humanity Helping Sudan Project with my dear friend, Wiyual, in mind. Wiyual functioned as an older brother when I had nobody to care for me.  After Wiyual died from cholera, the memory of how he helped me remained.  Wiyual was just a child himself and how special of a human being he was to care for another starving, vulnerable child not much younger than himself.

Jemima Laurent – Founder of College Lingual

Jemima Laurent

Jemima Laurent is the Co-Founder and CEO of College Lingual, an organization working with first-generation American students addressing the social and emotional aspect of transitioning out of high school. Being a first-generation American, born to Haitian parents, Jemima uses her personal experience and her professional background, as a licensed social worker to facilitate conversations with students and parents. For the past three years, College Lingual has worked with various schools, social groups and organizations including the Haitian Baptist Church at the Crossroads in Newark, NJ. Through the workshops and programs hosted by College Lingual, conversations take place that explore the impact of cultural differences, and social influences on the emotional health of high school students and their parents.

Who/what motivates you to do the work?

My parents inspire me to do my work. As immigrants who traveled to America to assure that their children would have the opportunity to obtain an education, I admire their courage. To leave home, a country where the language is your language, the food your food, and the people your people, and move to a foreign country where the language, food, and culture is completely different is not an easy task. So when I see parents, especially Haitian parents, with stories similar to my parents, it makes me want to provide a space for them to speak with each other, to alleviate the feeling of isolation and foster a sense of community.

Ruby Maddox & Lavar Thomas – Co-Founders of Leaders of the Free World

Ruby Maddox & Lavar Thomas

Ruby Maddox is the Co-Founder of Leaders of the free World, an international experience and leadership development program for young black men. She has spent over 12yrs working in the field of higher education, experiential learning, and nonprofit management. She’s received numerous awards numerous awards and recognition for her work, including a 40 Under 40 Business and Community Leader’s award and a Paul Harris Service Award.  Ruby believes in cultivating community and inspiring others to lead their best lives.

Who/what inspires you to do the work?

I’m motivated to do the work because I believe in the potential of students and because I know what’s possible when you give someone the opportunity to seek and define their purpose.

Lavar Thomas is the Co-Founder of Leaders of the Free World . He is a transformational leadership coach and speaker. Lavar has dedicated the last 10 years of his life to leadership development and self-improvement. He served 2 years as a U.S.  Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda returnee. Born in Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York, Lavar’s desire to help individuals discover their purpose and transform communities has taken him around the world. He currently serves as Community Involvement Coordinator with the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Who/what inspires you to do the work?

The process of building leaders motivates me to the do the work because it’s a constant reminder of what’s possible when your mission is bigger than yourself.

Rhoden Monrose – Founder of CariClub

Rhoden Monrose

Rhoden Monrose is the Founder and CEO of CariClub, a technology platform helping solve one of the biggest challenges facing companies – attracting and retaining the workforce of the future. CariClub uses algorithms to connect companies’ millennial employees with causes they care about, serve on associate boards and impact their local communities. A millennial himself, Rhoden created CariClub as a personal commitment to the impact he received from non-profit organizations growing up.

Millennials have put a premium on purpose-driven work, so matching them with non-profits they care about helps them find value beyond a paycheck. Initially launched in New York City, CariClub expanded into San Francisco, and will launch in additional cities this year. So far, over 1,500 millennials are members, and CariClub clients span financial services, consulting, legal and technology sectors. The CariClub network includes more than 1,000 non-profit organizations.

Who/What motivates you to do the work?

Rhoden and his sister were raised by his grandmother growing up in Saint Lucia, before moving to Harlem when he was 12 to live with his mother. Growing up Rhoden didn’t have it easy, but he went on to a successful career on Wall Street at Citi, thanks in large part to his mother’s insistence on Rhoden and his sister receiving the best education, and because of non-profits he was involved in as a child. Rhoden left Citi in 2013 to start CariClub as a personal commitment to the impact he received from these non-profits and their opportunities and experiences.

Yvonne Moore – Founder of Moore Philanthropy

Yvonne Moore

Yvonne Moore is the Founder and principal philanthropic advisor at Moore Philanthropy and brings over 25 years of experience in the public and private sectors to help high net worth donors of wealth and means leverage their assets to help create community and systemic change and impact around those issue areas most important to them and their families. Over the last 18 years she has used her extensive knowledge and experience working with donors in both the U.S. and Sub-Saharan Africa.

As a former advocate, and a philanthropist herself, she brings a dual understanding to this work: seeking the best outcomes from her client’s investments, yet understanding first-hand the unique challenges communities face in creating sustainable solutions. She holds a BA from Texas Tech University, a MS in Nonprofit Management from the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy at the New School, and has completed post-graduate studies in democracy and civil society at the University of Cape Town, and nationalism, post-conflict violence and gender at the University of Lower Silesia in Poland.

Who/what inspires you to do the work?

My work has very clearly been inspired by two of my grandparents. I keep a copy of my paternal great-grandfather’s Poll Tax Receipt on my office wall. He literally paid what was a days-wage (circa 1935) in order to exercise his free right to vote. It reminds me to stay focused and more importantly make sure I understand the game itself, and that I don’t get stuck on the players or the rhetoric. The second inspiration is my maternal grand-mother; she was one of the smartest business women I ever met and I’m reminded daily of the importance of access and opportunity for my people.

Chike Ukaegbu – Founder of Startup52

Chike Ukaegbu

Chike Ukaegbu is the founder of Startup52, NYC’s premier and award winning diversity-focused accelerator with a mission to increase the representation of founders from untapped communities in tech and startup entrepreneurship. Startup52 creates better access to resources, capital and exposure for founders from untapped communities. Since its launch in 2015, Startup52 has been called America’s Most Diverse Tech Accelerator and named one of Entrepreneur Magazine’s 2016 America’s Best Entrepreneurial Businesses. Chike also co-founded Re:LIFE Inc, a 501c3 nonprofit with the mission to empower youth through entrepreneurship, tech and education and have served over 800 youths since its inception.

Chike is a believer in the social and economic benefits of diversity and continues to advocate for its support and adoption. He is currently raising a diversity focused Venture Capital fund. He was invited President Obama’s My Brothers’ Keeper to The White House to do a briefing on initiatives that support diversity, STEM education and entrepreneurship for underserved communities.

Who/What motivates you to do the work?

The conviction that daily, every little act of faith and resolve positively invested in humanity paves the way for those who would otherwise not have had one. I have learned that faith amplifies the fortitude to go on in spite of challenges; and resolve keeps the daily hustle and grind alive. I will therefore, not relent

Kezia Williams – Founder of The Black upstart

Kezia Williams

Ms. Williams is the Chief Executive Officer of The Black upstart – a national training initiative serving African-American innovators interested in starting successful and profitable job creating businesses.  Through the accelerator program, the Black upstart administers a culturally-sensitive, innovative curriculum. It integrates experiential learning methods, lean startup methodology and business case studies about African-Americans.

To date, the organization has trained over 200 African-American entrepreneurs in the District of Columbia, Brooklyn; NY, Raleigh; NC, Durham; NC, and Baltimore, MD and has an online network of 50,000 Black entrepreneur supporters and entrepreneurs.  All Black upstart graduates have launched ventures in 12 cities.

Additionally, they have pitched to compete in Shark Tank and won financial investments from the Carolina Small Business Development Fund, National Urban League and Piranha Tank. Ms. Williams also manages a $25 million national entrepreneurship initiative for the United Negro College Fund.

Who/What motivates you to do the work?

Black women will lose $840,000 because of the wage gap. I am most inspired by women who have chosen not to accept this reality. They have chosen to create their opportunities through business creation. It’s no accident that Black women are the fastest growing segment of entrepreneurs. Black women are spearheading the movement to own their labor because their tired of their labor being undervalued. If we invest in the Black women, I am confident 100% of the time that it will yield returns.

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