Jonathan Escoffery ’02 was at Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, having just given his standard presentation about the nonprofit he founded, when a student came up to him and started crying. She told him she had always wanted to be involved in a program like the one Escoffery had described.
Escoffery’s New York City–based program, called Building Young Minds (BYM), teaches high school students about technology, business, fashion, music, film, photography, and television, and partners with companies in those industries to give students hands-on experience. More than 150 students have completed the program, and many have gone on to college and careers. Escoffery says 98 percent of participants graduate from high school, compared with an overall New York City high school graduation rate of 60 percent.
BYM teaches a variety of courses to high school students, such as photography, music, and fashion, as well as health and wellness and financial literacy. Once students get to the program’s upper-level courses, they can do internships with the nonprofit’s industry partners, and they also receive direct mentoring throughout college.
The goal, Escoffery says, is for them to be hired right out of college or start their own businesses—or both. “We engage corporate partners in different industries to invest in their future business by investing in our students,” he says.
One information technology (IT) company, for instance, is looking to recruit more minority associates. So they work with the students in BYM, teaching them IT, mentoring them, and offering them internship opportunities. When the company is looking to hire, these students already know IT, and the company, inside and out.
“A lot of these students don’t have a support network at home, but they’re very talented,” he says. “Or they do have support, but they don’t have the resources or connections.”
Escoffery began BYM about three years ago, but the inspiration for it had been incubating since his time at IC when the politics major started his own clothing line called Jreamwear Children of Da Curb. He held a fashion show his senior year for the Ithaca community at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center.
After moving to London to work in the fashion industry and then back to New York City to open his own store, the Harlem native says he realized he had strayed from his original mission, which was to start a philanthropic clothing line.
“I felt like I had to be rich to be able to start something like that,” he says. “Then I thought: There’s no such thing as tomorrow. I have a wealth of connections. Why not use those now?”
This year BYM launched pilot programs in Rwanda and Jamaica. Next year Escoffery plans to launch programs in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and London, and he’d like to expand the New York City program.
And what happened to the student who was crying after Escoffery’s presentation at Frederick Douglass Academy? She graduated from high school last year and is interning with a stylist who partnered with BYM and works with celebrity clients like basketball star Carmelo Anthony. That same student is also studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology and volunteering with some of the younger students at BYM.
“Our vision is to have our young people be leaders in the global market, not just consumers,” Escoffery says.
BYM is expanding globally and looking to further strategic partnerships and support. Visit buildingyoungminds.org for more information.