This successful Black-led org couldn't get a loan that wasn't predatory. Philanthropy needs to step up - Generocity Philly


Nov. 17, 2020 10:00 am

This successful Black-led org couldn’t get a loan that wasn’t predatory. Philanthropy needs to step up

"YEAH is working on a shoestring, breaking the cycle of violence in Cobbs Creek. The program is evidence-based, and we should be tripping over ourselves to fund it," says guest columnist Sarah Martinez-Helfman.

YEAH teen hangout.

(Photo from the YEAH website)

This guest post was written by Sarah Martinez-Helfman, president of the Samuel S. Fels Fund.
An invitation to my colleagues:

This pandemic reminded us that philanthropy can respond quickly and collaboratively to a crisis. Where are we, though, when the crisis is ongoing, as it is with gun violence in our neighborhoods?  How many young people do we need to lose in Philadelphia before we come together to act with urgency?

Last week, Shanell Ransom and I were introduced to YEAH Philly  —  a grassroots organization in West/Southwest Philadelphia addressing teen violence holistically. YEAH provides what young people need: food; paid opportunities; mediation and de-escalation skills; and creative outlets.

Cofounded by two brilliant Black leaders, Kendra Van de Water and James Aye, YEAH has been featured in Time Magazine, The Philadelphia Tribune and on WHYY’s Radio Times.  Young people in the neighborhood trust them and local courts and probation officers refer youth to them. YEAH has already outgrown all of the nearby community spaces available. They need a safe space of their own.

Kendra and James identified a corner property along the 52nd Street corridor to purchase for $215K but could not find a bank to loan to them. The only loan terms they could find — and this is what regularly happens to Black people — was 35% down with 8.3% interest. If they do not settle on the property by November 30, they will lose it.

This makes me bonkers! The very people that are most trusted and connected to their community and deserve our investment are having the hardest time raising the funds. They are bumping up against one obstacle after another — obstacles of racist systems.

Here comes “the ask”…

Since July, YEAH has raised $43K for the property from 410 individual donations. Fels just stepped up with $100K and is shaking the trees. Last week, a donor-advised fund at The Philadelphia Foundation responded with $25K and the Black Giving Circle contributed $10K. That leaves a gap of $37K needed to purchase the building with cash, with about $75K additional needed for renovations.

We can do this! 

Remember when we were racing to post Black Lives Matter statements in June, after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery? Here is a simple step towards animating those statements while supporting an organization working in the same neighborhood where our own Walter Wallace Jr. was killed by police.

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I have plenty of YEAH Philly’s documents to share and links to interviews with Kendra, James and the youth that make the connection between poverty, opportunity, and youth violence.

These issues are systemic, deep and calcified, and will take sustained support and advocacy to change. In the short term, YEAH is working on a shoestring, breaking the cycle of violence in Cobbs Creek. The program is evidence-based, and we should be tripping over ourselves to fund it.

Let’s do this!

Let’s bridge the gap and get YEAH to the finish line on November 30 without their signing that predatory loan. Then, let’s resource our BIPOC-led community organizations ongoing, especially those working to change the systems that do harm.

You can reach me at

In peace, love and justice,



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