Created by LaShaun Jackson and Omar Moore, the Circle Foundation is an all encompassing non-profit organization that serves the youth of Chicago in a very grassroots and hands on manner. By facilitating new and innovative educational experiences, providing leadership development, insightful guidance opportunities, and dutiful support service programming, the eight year old organization has continued to leave an indelible yet positive mark on the city’s youth.
The pair have teamed with beloved former Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte and his What’s Your Forte foundation for The Circle Foundation’s 8th Annual Fundraiser Gala, hosted by Forte, where they will commence to honor leaders in the community and present scholarships to deserving students
N’Digo recently caught up with Jackson and Moore to learn more about The Circle Foundation and how it all came together.
Tell us a little about your background and how you guys met?
LaShaun Jackson: We both grew up on the Southside of Chicago. We are former CPS students, from Kenwood and Lindblom. We were both relatively smart, played sports and were popular in our respective schools. Going to High School in the late 80’s and early 90’s in Chicago was challenging, just as it is today for many young African American males. The street culture, and other inner city obstacles, that stirred us off of the right path, influenced us. We both had negative experiences our senior year of high school that could have changed our futures drastically, however we were fortunate to leave Chicago and go to Southern Illinois University giving us an opportunity to do better in life. College was where we met each other. We were from the same city with similar backgrounds and interest. We were able to grow a close friendship, and we have been as thick as thieves ever since. Our path to business partners began over 20 years ago and continues to grow.
For those unfamiliar, what is The CIRCLE Foundation?
Omar Moore: The Circle Foundation is a non-profit organization that we started in 2009. We operate a school called Innovations High School, several mentoring programs, a recording studio and a fitness center. Our major work is around education. Additionally, we conduct many events throughout the city. We specifically focus our activities in underserved communities on the Southside of Chicago, which as LaShaun stated, is where we both were raised.
Talk a bit about the genesis of the foundation and how you got it off the ground.
Omar: Back when we were in college we developed the idea of CIRCLE Foundation. It took sixteen years to become a reality but we were passionate about making it happen. Our professional goal has always been to serve and give back to our community. We know that many African American youth need more support and resources than what’s available to them in their immediate surroundings. When the opportunity presented itself to start and run our own programs, we were ready. We are fortunate to have connections that helped us hit the ground running. Our high school is under the auspices of Youth Connection Charter School (YCCS), and we partner with an organization called the Alternative Schools Network (ASN) to provide many of our mentoring programs. Both YCCS and ASN played an essential role in our growth. They supported us until we could get on our feet. Our collaborations with these two organizations have been key in for us to continue to provide the services for our youth. Our unrelenting goal to give back to our community was what has kept us focused and having worked together in different capacities for so long has helped us sustain our business model.
At their First Annual White Party Labor Day weekend to raise school supplies to donate to deserving students for the new school year.
What can attendees expect at your upcoming 8th annual Gala and Awards Dinner?
LaShaun: A great evening! Attendees will find out more about Circle Foundation and have the chance to see and hear first hand how our work has made an impact in Chicago. There will also be a silent auction, fashion show produced by the African L.I.F.E. and an on site raffle. We are honoring Roland Davis of Project 5000 with a community award.
How did Matt Forte and his “What’s Your Forte” Foundation become involved?
LaShaun:We’ve been fortunate to develop a relationship with Matt and collaborate with him and his organization, What’s Your Forte, in the past. We worked with Matt on community events and he has done PSA’s for Innovations high School. He is a very genuine guy and sincerely cares about the work we do for the kids. His foundation’s mission is very similar to Circle Foundation’s and together we can be more effective and create more change. Matt was introduced to us and our organization through our friend, Cobe Williams, who works hard in the city on violence prevention.
In what ways are you looking to grow and expand the services offered by The Circle Foundation?
Omar: We want to expand upon and bring more resource for the work we currently do. One of our goals for 2017 it to launch a male mentoring program for 100 young men throughout the Chicagoland area. So many of the young males in Chicago can benefit from having a consistent, positive mentor in their life. We are also expanding the wellness services that we offer because both mental and physical health need more resources in the communities. Lastly, we want to continue to bring notable individuals to help address the problems that we face in the inner cities. Our work with Matt continues to grow through the scholarship program, camps and back to school bookbag and supply giveaways. In the past we have also been fortunate to work with Joakim Noah and the Noah’s Arc Foundation. He was an honored for his work in the community at our 6th annual gala in 2015.
What are your thoughts on Chance The Rapper’s recent donation of $1 million dollars to Chicago Public Schools?
LaShaun: We are very proud of Chance! For a 23 year old to make the decision to give $1 million dollars of his own money to help fund art programs for students is very impressive. He went back to where he grew up and that shows his genuine interest to give back. We believe the message he sent by giving that donation is very powerful. Hopefully, it will motivate other hometown celebrities to do more for the schools in Chicago where they were educated. It also helps the youth to see that when you are at your height of success, you don’t have to think about material things. Chance is an example to show how you can use your success to impact something that is bigger than personal gain but provide change for children in the community that can enhance lives. We are proud of our former student NAME who was Chance’s DJ for many years. He was with Chance when he received his Grammy.
Name THREE things that you think are important in the educational development of our youth?
- Strong, competent, educational professionals that are trained on how to deal with this new generation of digital learners; as well as being able to relate to and motivate inner city children.
- Parent and family involvement and support of their student’s educational endeavors and career choices. Parents need to be an intricate part of their student’s education.
- Education that address the entire student, not just the academics. Students need social and character development if we expect them to grow into socially responsible and productive citizens that contribute to the future successes of society. We often overestimate a young person’s ability to navigate the wealth of information that is readily available to them 24 hours a day, and because of this they are left to make many decisions that they are generally not equipped to make alone. We underestimate the power of mentorship.
Favorite quote or affirmation?
Omar:You are limited only by your aspirations”
LaShaun: “Children are gifts; you must be present to open them.”
How can interested parties contribute or be involved with The Circle Foundation?
What’s next for The CIRCLE Foundation?
Increasing our level of services! The gala!