Create a roadmap for perpetual growth- make sure your team members understand the steps you took so that it can be repeated and improved upon over time.

For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Imani Maatuka.

Imani Maatuka is currently a Commercial Litigation and Disputes associate attorney in the Dallas, Texas office of Sidley Austin, LLP. She was born and raised in Champaign, Illinois where she excelled as a three-sport athlete and as an entrepreneur, creating a company in high school that realized a $30,000 profit. Imani graduated summa cum laude, and first in her class, from North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University with a B.S. in journalism and mass communications and matriculated to Washington University School of Law, where she earned her J.D. accompanied with the Dean’s Fellowship Award, Dean’s Leadership Award, Dean’s Service Award and the highest grade in the Entrepreneurship & Intellectual Property Clinic.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

Losing Athlete of the Year in High School:

The “Athlete of the Year” award was given during the last week of high school to the senior that was considered to be the best overall athlete throughout the entire senior class. The selection process required the varsity head coach of each sport to vote on an athlete.

As a three-sport athlete that excelled in basketball, softball and tennis, I fully expected my name to be called when the award was announced. However, to my, my friends, and my families surprise, I did not win. Rather, I received the “Athlete of the Year- Runner Up” award.

I eventually found out that it was my tennis coach that voted for one of my tennis teammates over me for this prestigious award. I was initially astonished as I was certainly an overall better tennis player than her. However, after giving it some time and reflecting on my failure to win this coveted award, I was able to learn a key lesson.

Although I was considered the star player, I, often times, tried to rest on my reputation and instead of working hard. I would waste time and complain about certain workouts. In contrast, the teammate who won the award was steadfast in working hard, and being a team-oriented leader.

In the end, it is not surprising my other teammate won the award over me. I completely embarrassed myself. I lost sight of the goal and allowed my ego to get in the way of something I truly cared about. My reputation was all I had, and I allowed it to be diminished by my own hand.

This taught me one of the hardest lessons in my life, and for that, I am appreciative. It still stings to walk through my High School and see other persons name on top of mine, even though she was the rightful Athlete of the Year. This loss sparked a fire in me. I had finally tasted defeat. I lost something that I held dear.

Introduction to Dr. Linda Callahan

During my first meeting with my advisor, Dr. Linda Callahan, I told her that I wanted to graduate in three years. I had shared this same ambitious dream with other students and faculty members, all who shared discouraging remarks as to why it couldn’t be done. Instead, Dr. Callahan pulled out a curriculum guide, and began outlining the path to make this happen. On May 12, 2018, I graduated from North Carolina A&T State University in only three years, securing a 4.0 GPA, #1 class rank, as well as Summa Cum Laude honors recognition. This was my first realization that I can make my dreams a reality, no matter how grand they may seem.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.

Emotional Intelligence. Perseverance. Innovation.

When I was 14 years old, I successfully facilitated, promoted and executed my first event, creating my company, Featuring Your Business. In 2013, the University of Illinois had recently been crowned the #1 party school in America. Well, for high school students — that meant a lot. As the “premature adults” that we were, we wanted to be at those parties. High school parties were lame, because they weren’t on campus, and they weren’t at bars. Well, since I’ve possessed an entrepreneurial spirit at such a very young age, I saw an opportunity!

All I had to do was (1) rent out a bar, (2) invite all my friends, (3) force my friends to promote the party, (4) hire a DJ, (5) hire security. How hard could it be? Well, really hard. First, I was brace-faced little girl trying to convince bar owners to let me rent out their venue to have underage high school students “party.” Now, the associated risks and liability make my lawyer ears cringe.

But, somehow, I was able to accomplish all of these tasks. I had the venue. I paid $500 to rent the bar from 8:00 PM — 11:00 PM. I asked an upperclassmen at my school to DJ, and a local rapper to perform. Over 400 kids came. I made $4,000 in profit, and the rest is history. I quickly began scheming on how to create the next big party. I generated over $30,000 in revenue from my high school events.

This prolonged journey with my company proved to me that I could do anything as long as I properly prepared. This event cemented my understanding that opportunities were bountiful as long as I was ready to seize the moment.

What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?

The realization that it takes a team to achieve success. As a naturally driven leader, I often times feel that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to. This characteristic causes me to believe that I, alone can achieve anything. However, since leading my organization, I have found that it is simply impossible to lead without a team behind me.

I have been able to coordinate with my team and delegate tasks in order to maximize the potential of my organization. Without teamwork, there is simply no way that I could have caused this organization to grow as much as it has.

Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?

The Bridging the Gap Scholarship, Inc. (“BTG”), is designed to provide minority students with the resources necessary to apply to law school, succeed in law school, and achieve success in their legal careers. BTG provides recipients of the scholarship with hep regarding law school applications, mentorship while in law school, and opportunities to network with powerful attorneys so that after matriculation, they start their career at a high level.

What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?

I am the benefactor of outstanding circumstances. With such benefits exists a responsibility to those whose circumstances are not as fortuitous. I recognize that although my success is a product of my own hard work, it is foremost the manifestation of my family and my own plan. It is a privilege to have parents with industry knowledge and who have paved the primrose path for you to follow. Accordingly, I spearheaded this scholarship with the purpose to alleviate the daunting costs of applying to law school, and providing mentorship and support to recipients, throughout their legal education. Bridging the Gap Scholarship addresses the financial barrier between minority future law students and the lucrative opportunities that await them.

Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?

A member of our inaugural Bridging the Gap Scholarship class is a great example. This young woman was accepted into several top law schools. She currently attends the University of Pennsylvania Law School on academic scholarship and currently serves as the Editor-in-Chief of the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law. Accordingly, she has also interned with one of the most prestigious, global law firms in the world. It has been an honor to mentor her throughout her legal career and her success is a great characterization of the type of opportunities the Bridging the Gap Scholarship provides to our recipients.

We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?

  1. Educate themselves: minority representation in corporate law first stems from misinformation. In order to address the problem, you must educate yourself about the industry to recognize the obstacles that inhibit student success.
  2. Give Back: far too many attorneys fail to recognize how the “stars aligned” in their favor, and are not willing to help the next generation. I have yet to see a successful person who managed to achieve all they did on their own.
  3. Be willing to hear other opinions.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?” Please share a story or example for each.

1. Have a plan/ a clear vision to guide you.

2 .Get your docs in order- get incorporated, obtain 501c3 status, register with state attorney general- hire a lawyer if you are daunted by these tasks.

3. Share your story- marketing is a must- share stories about your organization and the benefactors.

4. Invest in talent.

5. Create a roadmap for perpetual growth- make sure your team members understand the steps you took so that it can be repeated and improved upon over time.

How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?

The pandemic has changed my definition of success in that I have come to the realization that success means nothing without the ability to share it with others. The pandemic has caused the destruction of the lives of many people. While I think it is important for everyone to have their own successes and achievements, it is just as important to make sure those around you are achieving their dreams and are healthy. The pandemic has definitely made me into a more compassionate person as I recognize that success is meaningless if the ones you love are not here to share it with you.

How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?

One thing that always inspires me is my ability to achieve my goals. While setbacks are inevitable, I know that as long as I keep striving forward, I will eventually accomplish what I set out to do. My past experiences have shown me that through hard work, no setback can truly deter me. As long as I don’t let failure keep me down, I know that I can achieve any goal I put my mind to, even if it takes longer than expected.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Tony West

Cristopher Lewis

Rashida La Lande

Preston Hopson

Audrey Boone Tillman

Harvey Anderson

Hubert Allen Harris

You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?

My LinkedIn is a great way to follow all the things that i’m doing.

Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.