Invite great people to your board: Strategic support is crucial for social enterprises. Surrounding EMA with people with different skill sets and professional experiences has allowed us to grow as an organization healthily and diversely.

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 Jerome Gumbs.

Coach Jerome Gumbs is a former collegiate and professional basketball player and the founder of Empower ME Academy (EMA). Founded in 2013, EMA is a social business enterprise that teaches fundamental basketball skills and concepts combined with leadership development training.

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?

Quite a few events in my life helped shape who I am now. But the two that stand out are my near-death experience at age 13 and becoming a father at age 20.

When I was very young, at 9, I knew my deepest passion would be to inspire other people. But, at 13 years old, growing up in the Virgin Islands, things started going in the wrong direction until the day I had a bike accident. That experience shook me and helped me find myself again. Until I created Empower ME Academy (EMA), I was unsure why my life was spared. Now I wake up every morning grateful to make a difference in young humans’ lives.

The second was being a dad to Jaydon, who I also coach. When he was born, I realized my life was no longer about me, and it became more about setting the best example for my son. And exceeding his and everyone’s expectation of how a single dad of color should show up.

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.

Empathy and resilience. Also, I am not sure if it’s a character trait, but I love people. My mom raised me with the ideology that we should love everyone from every part of the world and every background.

Empathy and resilience were instrumental in navigating my career as a professional basketball player, which led me to this greater mission that inspires my students daily at EMA. How can I possibly understand my students’ challenges if I am not willing to put myself in other people’s shoes?

Being resilient and flexible when the situation is not ideal builds on the idea of continuing to move forward regardless of how difficult it is. And this is directly related to the fact that I created EMA from scratch, without any previous training, or knowledge of how to make it happen — only the fact that nothing was going to stop me.

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

How people undervalue teaching leadership to children. Leadership is the most sought-after concept for adults, yet we refrain from exposing children to it.

However, the ones that have the opportunity to learn and develop leadership skills from the inside out from an early age are more prepared to become successful and well-rounded adults capable of enduring hardships while caring about and lifting those surrounding them.

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

That’s a loaded question because EMA hopes to redefine many things in youth sports. But from an organizational standpoint, EMA attracts and works with children from all communities and walks of life to teach them high-quality basketball and leadership skills.

Under the same roof, these barriers are dismantled. Not only have they broken down the walls due to where they came from, but they have learned how their background and lessons can help them develop a strong bond and partnership in changing sports and the world.

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

After traveling for nearly my entire life to 20+ countries, I’ve seen a lot. Mainly the disparity between adult players who had mentors versus those who did not.

The difference between those who had the opportunity to build a strong foundation and be prepared for shortcomings and those who didn’t have the same chance is enormous; life alternating.

I witnessed this too often during my professional career, which led to my passion and urgency to create EMA because of this vast void. We should only use sports for children as a platform to pull them in so they can develop into leaders and become the best version of themselves.

This inevitably allows them to develop the need and passion for paying forward as I did.

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

Thankfully, we have a handful of good stories about our students. Among the most impressive journeys I’ve witnessed at EMA, is from a young man on the autistic spectrum that started with us in 2014 as a shy student immersed in self-doubt.

His goal was never to play professionally but learn how to play well with his dad and his friends. He went from a negative perspective of his life, not wanting to have anyone around, to flourish as a courageous leader capable of achieving things he never thought possible and inspiring others. Today, he is a member of EMA’s board, acting and striving to win an Oscar potentially.

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?

Research the impact sports have on children throughout their lives. For example, according to the National Council of Youth Sports, 60 million children and teens participate in organized sports each year. But by age 13, 70 percent of young people quit participating in sports altogether. The reasons for that are that they’re no longer having fun, consider their coaches ineffective, are forced to play by overbearing parents, and sometimes can’t afford to play in all required games. We want to change this narrative!

The second is to avoid specialization. Keep your mind open to see what others are doing and explore possibilities instead of focusing on a single goal. In youth sports, specialization may keep children too engaged in one sport or too focused on that college scholarship that there isn’t space to try anything else. I think youth sports are more professionalized today than professional sports. As this culture continues to spread, we have to combat the toxicity of youth sports by changing the narrative to focus on the growth and lessons sprinkled throughout playing any sport versus concentrating on winning.

And finally, find people who have had similar experiences in youth sports to gain a better perspective of what you are getting into to see if this is a suitable investment. Some examples of questions you can ask are — What are the pros and cons from your point of view? What would you do differently, if anything?

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?”

Create a tremendously powerful mission that many people from any background can get behind: At EMA, for example, every single word of our mission statement was carefully considered. Our mission reflects how we want to solve the problem and push our community to move forward.

Have a great team: As I always say, “there is no I in team.” That is also true from the standpoint of managing a social enterprise. Attracting professionals who believe in what we do at EMA has been instrumental to my and the team’s success and impact. One of my favorite quotes is, “If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room!”

Invite great people to your board: Strategic support is crucial for social enterprises. Surrounding EMA with people with different skill sets and professional experiences has allowed us to grow as an organization healthily and diversely.

Develop meaningful partnerships: Having relationships outside your ecosystem brings a diversity of ideas and thoughts to your organization. At EMA, we are constantly developing this concept to create an environment that supports our students in sports and leadership emotionally and intellectually.

Create a culture that focuses on impact: Our culture is focused on impact first. It’s our bottom line. We are driven by our reach, not our bank account. Changing lives keeps us motivated to move forward and expand our programs.

How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?

The pandemic illuminated our perception of success.

It not only amplified how crucial mental health was (and should be), but it also underscored it across the globe. Our methodology’s primary focus has always been on children’s mental health by always helping them to stay in the right and most positive state of mind when things become challenging. Especially when the world suddenly was not the same anymore.

As soon as we were able to reopen, we saw an uptick in students participating in our programs, looking for what we have been providing for almost 10 years: improvement of their children’s mental health. The pandemic strengthened our belief in what we were doing, unlocking and empowering young humans to their best version.

How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?

I see every setback as an opportunity to make a comeback. There’s a proverb that I always like to mention “If I knew what I know about mistakes today, I would have made more.” And that’s how it is in sports — for every shot you miss, you get the opportunity to make the next one.

Setbacks happen in life all the time and having the courage to embrace them instead of being paralyzed by fear is a powerful way to push boundaries and build resilience. Our EMA leaders learn that failure and mistakes are allies. Can you imagine knowing that at an early age? You become unstoppable.

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. 🙂

Marc Benioff. I read his book Trailblazer and I could read it again every month. I would love to have the opportunity to meet him and talk about these ideas. The way he leads his company inspires me to lead EMA.

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

Through our website and our social media channels: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram

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