Tolulope is a Goodmon Fellow (Transforming Leaders ’15) and a United Way of the Greater Triangle 10 to Watch member. She is the CEO of EVOLVE Mentoring, a speaker, and an NCCU and Triangle Business Journal 40 Under 40 honoree. In our conversation with her, Tolulope speaks about her experience in Transforming Leaders, the story behind EVOLVE and why mentoring youth matters.
“Service is the rent we pay for our room on Earth.“
Owen Jordan: What’s the story behind EVOLVE Mentoring?
Tolulope Omokaiye: In what I call “my former life,” after graduation from North Carolina Central University, I worked for Newell Rubbermaid as an Area Market Manager and later a Channel Manager for Goode hair products. In 2009/2010, the economy hit a bad recession, and I, like many others, was laid off and had to move back to NC. In 2011, while studying for my MBA at Meredith College, EVOLVE Mentoring fell into my spirit, starting with the question, “Was I/we prepared for life after college? Not just prepared to be trained to do a job but prepared to take care of ourselves, like managing our finances properly, learning to cook/eat healthily, being civically engaged, etc. I asked some classmates, and we all agreed that the resounding answer was NO. I started to research different statistics impacting Black adults, like high debt and low credit, less likely to contract certain health issues but more likely to die from them, high unemployment, and lower civic engagement. Of course, the major factor is systemic racism, but I discovered that generational lack of knowledge was also a major factor. I decided to create an organization that would ensure Black and Brown youth had an opportunity to learn life skills and have access to mentoring support to help them Evolve and succeed. We believe that the first revolution is the evolution of thought. In 2017, we became the Wake County affiliate of President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative to close the achievement gap for Black and Brown youth. We included girls and young women in 2019 to turn MBK into MBSK Wake County to leave no child behind in the press to success. In addition to our life skills programming, we are a collaborating backbone organization for programs serving the youth of color and support leaders of color in numerous ways to help build a community to “move the needle” for our youth.
Owen Jordan: What was the primary impact of the Transforming Leaders Program on your life?
Tolulope Omokaiye: Being a part of Transforming Leaders gave me a new perspective on how common and complicated unraveling the entanglement of systemic racism and white-dominant culture has on the lives of all Black and Brown people, no matter their standing or station in life. My participation in the program strengthened my belief that any measure of progress in removing implicit bias and instilling the understanding needed for true equity will take open and genuinely willing collective participation of all people. It takes people impacted on both sides of the spectrum, oppressed and oppressive, to create the allyship needed to recognize Dr. King’s dream. And while that process will not be pretty or pleasant, sometimes it is work that is still necessary today as it has been for centuries.
Owen Jordan: How did the program impact the work that you do?
Tolulope Omokaiye: The Leadership Triangle Transforming Leaders Program tremendously impacted my work through EVOLVE and other endeavors. It has shifted the way EVOLVE advocates for change, the collaborations we seek, the way we define sustainability, how we seek funding partners, and develop programing for all youth to help them be the change we want to see in society.
Owen Jordan: Did you make meaningful connections during or after the program?
Tolulope Omokaiye: I did!! I have grown and maintained beautiful personal and professional relationships with my cohort of Transforming Leaders. It was my second time participating in Leadership Triangle, and I am a 2x Goodman Fellow and maintain unique and genuinely supportive relationships from both iterations.
Owen Jordan: How can people best support you in your work with EVOLVE Mentoring?
Tolulope Omokaiye: There are many ways to support our work with EVOLVE Mentoring. Please volunteer; follow, like and share our social media content from Facebook and Instagram; sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date; partner with us as a collaborator for change; join our Board of Advisors; join us for future programs and spread the word about our absolutely fantastic organization! The number one way people can support is to become a donor or sponsor and support creating equity in the funding space for leaders of color–starting with us! On March 17th, EVOLVE will celebrate 12 years of serving our community. We are launching our REVOLVE sustainer donor program to allow supporters to make monthly monetary contributions to the cause. When we launch, visit our website in March to sign up and support our future campaigns. All areas of support are appreciated and welcomed. I can’t say it enough, and I feel confident speaking for all Black and Brown leaders when I say revolution must be funded!
If you would like to support the work of Tolulope and EVOLVE Mentoring, check out their website.