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Meet Barak & Sara Bomani of Unearth and Empower Communities in Compton

Today we’d like to introduce you to Barak & Sara Bomani.

Barak and Sara, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
In 2012, my wife and I lived in Paramount and was a part of a church plant in Compton– a group of radical Christians who desired to do life together in community–on purpose. City Church of Compton would become our new home during our time of engagement to one another. After marriage, a bunch of members were talking one evening about what gifts we could share with the community of Compton; we desperately did not want our church community to be labeled as another White evangelical group who desired to bring their “privilege” to a “poor” community to save it. We longed for an opportunity to live amongst and learn from our neighbors in Compton, desiring to be a family on mission.  However, at the same time, we knew we had talents, skills and certain privileges that could benefit the larger community. So we waited. Eventually, the need for an after school program surfaced to the top of the discussion. We talked about art in schools, employment, mentoring–all kinds of things. Yet when it was done, Sara and I knew what we could contribute: our love for both education and the arts. I am an educator with over 22 years of experience, and she has been an artist since her youth. Both of us pursued graduate degrees in our respective fields after undergrad and desired to work with young people of color. After many more granular conversations with neighbors sharing their thoughts, in 2013 Unearth and Empower Communities was born. Prior to the founding, Sara was teaching art to elementary and middle school students in Compton as well as designing and painting murals for the Compton Initiative. So for us to provide artistic avenues for young people was inevitable. Our mission today is to create pathways to college, employment and entrepreneurship for underserved youth through engagement with education and the arts.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The hardest part about starting a company is starting a company. Because we decided to start a non-profit organization, we were actually starting a movement but didn’t really recognize it as such at the time. We strongly desire to come alongside people and help them to “unearth” the greatness that is already present within. Then, we want to provide opportunities “to empower” them along their journey. To accomplish that end, Unearth and Empower Communities exists to work alongside city residents, officials, organizations and businesses to develop interdependent neighborhoods that transform their communities. We had no idea how to do this work. We joined a chamber of commerce, set up meetings with the mayor, called our local representatives and of course, partnered with City Church of Compton, who still provides space and encouragement for our programming without ever asking for anything in return. As a recently married interracial couple who was new to the Compton community, race relations and resources were hard to figure out; we were still living in Paramount, and it’s challenging to become a part of a community where you don’t do life 24-7; it feels distant, inauthentic and makes you look very suspicious to the people who live there.

Another barrier was raising money for programming and administration. As newly established entrepreneurs, our self-employed annual salaries were trying to make ends meet. Quickly, we were forced to adopt a bi-vocational attitude toward life, requiring us to create multiple streams of income while we did life in the Compton. My college education came in handy for reading the fine print and establishing protocols within our neophyte organization. I completed the federal incorporation application and state paperwork, filed the taxes and learned about establishing business credit from hours of late night reading and talking to people. Then, there were the relationships. As a founder of a nonprofit, one is always building and deepening roots in relational capital; it’s the true currency of any organization. To start an organization is both exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Imagine tending to a garden every day that has specific seasons for fruit bearing. The cultivating of the “process” becomes just as important as the reaping of the “product.”

Please tell us about Unearth and Empower Communities.
It was imperative that we become homeowners in the city where we serve so we purchased a home when the time was right.  Unearth and Empower is in the people business. Education and the arts simply allow us to gather in public spaces to do life with our neighbors in the city. We care about social justice and everyday injustices. This is why we are called to do the work we do. We actually love it. It’s who we are on the inside. However, for the formal administration of state and government, this love has been framed in the structure of an organization we call Unearth and Empower Communities. We are most proud of the people we get to work alongside, the young people, their families and friends. All the joy. All the pain. God is allowing us to connect in unique ways that benefit us sometimes more than we benefit others. Also, we are most proud of the donors and community at large that support us. They trust our decisions to spend their money on what matters. With a small annual budget of $46K, Unearth and Empower Communities provides learning opportunities for inner-city youth pre-k through college who live, volunteer or attend school in Compton. At no cost to families, students get to experience the following:

COMMUNITY ART CAMPS
Hundreds of kids participate in our free art camps. Youth experience visual and performing arts taught by professionals in the community. Local businesses and organizations sponsor the food and supplies. Volunteers fuel the supervision. Youth attend from all over Compton and surrounding cities.

EACH ONE. TEACH ONE. AFTER SCHOOL PROGRAM
Every school week during our free after school program, families in Compton come together to volunteer and educate 35 youth in pre-k to 6th grade. High school volunteers, parents, staff and school educators co-develop a diverse curriculum that consists of reading, the arts, science field trips, recreation and homework help.

COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIPS
Every high school student that volunteers for one of our programs is eligible for a college scholarship. Students are mentored throughout their high school years and receive opportunities for college assistance, employment and entrepreneurial training. We currently support 13 college students. We will celebrate our first college graduate in May 2020; Kora will graduate from Sonoma State University with a BA in Early Childhood Studies and a Minor in Art.

OUTCOMES:
94% of our 16 high school graduates are enrolled in COLLEGE
90% of our 16 high school graduates are EMPLOYED

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
This question, “What would you do differently if you had to do it again?” is often asked of entrepreneurs. The answer is like a double-edged sword. The discovery of knowledge on this unfamiliar business road has proven to be the fuel for the journey. The path has revealed invaluable diamonds that are re-shaping what we think, where we live and how we come alongside our neighbors. We don’t all have to believe the same thing or look the same in order for us to love well.

Contact Info:

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