Making the decision to start a nonprofit was made lightly. But I have to admit that it definitely was and is harder than I ever imagined…but I would make the decision all over again to start BGS!
When I graduated from undergrad I made the decision to accept an offer with a financial software firm in NY. I was 2 years out from my last suicide attempt and ready to take on NY both professionally and personally. And as many young grads learn quickly in NY volunteering is a big part of being a part of both professional and personal communities.
As I sat down to think about volunteer opportunities I started out interviewing to mentor for first-generation college students, potentially becoming a Big Sister in the BSBB program, and even activities with Bellevue’s psychiatric teen ward. The experiences at all of these institutions were insightful and rewarding but at the end of the day, I wanted to help young women who like me struggled with clinical depression and anxiety that was easily masked in the ways young black girls are taught to mask emotional and coping issues to everyday, chronic and racial experiences.
I sought out to find organizations and/or groups that provide(d) mental health education, resources, and support to young black women. I didn’t find anything. This is not to say there were not organizations, groups, or institutions that had intersections with my early mission for BGS but nothing that would have captured me, that would have connected with my friends and family that were beginning to secretly tell me about their own mental health struggles as I became more public about my experiences with depression, anxiety and suicide. I found a gap.
Next, I had to really sit with myself and evaluate if I was the right person to start this organization. I looked at my education, network, and within myself to ask the hard questions, “Am I the right person for the job”. While I did not have a graduate degree or licensure in mental health, my BA in Psychology. In speaking to mental health professionals in my network I was able to get expert advice on how to navigate starting a mental health nonprofit. I was able to have early conversations to garner the support of my network and identify those willing and able to help me early on to build a strong foundation for BGS.
Next, I got to work! I spent and continue to spend tirelessly nights working with our community, partners, and donors to support our core mission. Starting a nonprofit is a whole lot of work. You don’t wear multiple hats, you wear ALL the hats! Be prepared to devote yourself to building a strong foundation early on and ensure you are leaning on and into your core mission in all functions. Be prepared to do the work! As BGS has grown I have widened both my personal and professional tribe that helps to support me in organizational mission work. I call in favors (and return them), I make the hard asks, I make the hard decisions, I have hired a nonprofit leadership coach, I have made sure I am prioritizing my mental health by going to therapy. I sum these many tips up with this, “put your mask on first.”