LA2050 Grants Challenge applications are open now through June 28th, 2024.
2023 Grants Challenge


Through Mentoring Leaders, Spirit Awakening Foundation offers a free after-school intergenerational program providing healing, mentorship, and arts-focused support for formerly-incarcerated, systems-impacted and at-promise LA youth. Our real-time, personalized assistance is an antidote to the internalized racism that produces self-hatred, low self-esteem and violent behavior resulting from systemic structures that oppress and harm youth and communities of color. Through this program, our intention is to disrupt the school to prison pipeline.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

Support for Foster and Systems-Impacted Youth

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

County of Los Angeles

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

Imprisonment rates are disproportionately high among youth of color. Black youth are 6.5 times more likely, and Latino youth twice as likely, to be arrested as white youth. (8% of the population is Black, yet roughly 36% of the youth prison population is Black.) The LA County Board of Supervisors' 2020 motion to replace the juvenile justice system by 2025 with a new trauma-informed, community-based, restorative justice treatment and rehabilitative services model has made it clear: LA's communities need more programs to support BIPOC youth diverted away from incarceration. Organizations that offer 1) holistic, trauma-informed mindfulness practices to help neglected and abused youth heal and see hope for their future, 2) possess a strong track record of previous success, and 3) enjoy deep relationships of trust with the juvenile justice system and systems-impacted families are essential to a successful transition away from the current punitive, ineffective juvenile justice model.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

When SAF was created, very few trauma informed programs were available for incarcerated youth, & even fewer provided post-incarceration support. To fill the gap, Founder/CEO Akuyoe Graham added after-release community-based programs, initially partnering with the grandmother of a formerly incarcerated youth to offer food & hospitality weekly in a South Central home. As demand grew, we relocated. From these humble roots, Mentoring Leaders has grown into a free after-school program offering an intergenerational community for healing, mentorship, & arts-focused support for youth. An international youth service trip to Ghana scheduled for summer 2024 will be a highlight. Key Components Creative arts Cultural enrichment opportunities Spiritual & professional counseling Peer-to-peer mentorship Tutoring Job preparation Financial aid/scholarships Meditation International service trips Mentoring Leaders went virtual during the Pandemic, minimizing staffing costs & making the program geographically accessible to more youth. But the face-to-face connection between teaching artists & youth that drives safety, risk-taking & innovation in the creative process was compromised. We will transition back to a hybrid format, & include nutritional meals. Teaching artists will run in-person bi-weekly sessions alternating with virtual sessions & pilot a future wellness center envisioned as a safe place for young creatives to take advantage of healing arts & mentorship opportunities.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

Short Term Vision - Returning to in-person programming will enable us to increase participation exponentially (as many as 100 youth could be served) and better address the immediate needs of participants, many of whom live in households with poverty, emotional and/or physical violence, and substance abuse. We will also take a youth service trip to Ghana in August 2024, which will include service projects to give back to children and elders, educational experiences to support their creative talents and leadership skills. Long Term Vision - Prepare and support program participants in their mental well being and further support participants in securing employment in their chosen fields, particularly arts professions. Support participants in transforming their lives from that of being victims to being empowered individuals with a strong sense of self and value, capable of success with the capacity to give back to their communities and the world in authentically meaningful ways.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

In-person participation rates Virtual participation rates Testimonials, academic/professional data, evaluation surveys, program audits Culturally enriching field trip participation rates: In addition to the planned Ghana trip, participants will attend enriching exhibits, venues & performances, which could include: the Skirball Cultural Center; the Geffen Playhouse, & an Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performance, which exposes participants to various creative industries & connects them to arts & culture groups in their communities Voices of the Unheard participation: Our annual public celebration/performance features compilations of poems & metaphysical musings written by program participants & includes art presentations, dramatic role-play, modern dance, & short film debuts Feedback/testimonials from site administrators & family members; requests to bring Mentoring Leaders into more communities; & a request from Esalen Institute to return our leadership retreats to Big Sur

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 50

Indirect Impact: