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The story of how Jrue and Lauren Holiday uplifted hundreds of Black-owned businesses and nonprofits

In trading for Jrue Holiday, the Celtics welcome to Boston a uniquely philanthropic couple that has supported every community they have been a part of. 

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2019 Las Vegas Summer League - Day 2 Photo by Cassy Athena/Getty Images

Jrue Holiday is an NBA champion, a two-time All Star, and a 14-year NBA vet. But he names his biggest accomplishment as something he’s achieved off the court: launching a social impact fund with his wife, soccer Olympics gold medalist Lauren Holiday.

The couple started the Jrue and Lauren Holiday Social Impact Fund (JLH) in 2020, while Jrue still played for the New Orleans Pelicans. The pandemic had effectively shut down society, and concurrently, a series of police killings, headlined by the murder of George Floyd, put racial injustice at the forefront of public consciousness.

They felt compelled to address the racial and socioeconomic crises the pandemic exacerbated in a meaningful way. So, they opted to donate the entirety of the $5.3 million Jrue earned during his time in the NBA bubble, and used that money to launch a social impact fund that provides grants and support to Black-owned businesses and nonprofits in underserved communities.

The Jrue and Lauren Holiday Fund focuses on four cities near and dear to the couple’s hearts: Los Angeles (Jrue’s hometown), Indianapolis (Lauren’s hometown), New Orleans (where Jrue played for seven years), and Milwaukee (where Jrue played for three). Given the Holidays’ commitment to supporting every community they’ve touched, it’s fair to assume Boston could eventually be added to that list.

Syndication: Journal Sentinel Jovanny Hernandez / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Since its inception, more than 150 charities and companies have received funding and support from JLH. Grants are usually somewhere between $25,000 and $50,000, and the support extends far beyond just an initial financial contribution. Upon selection, entrepreneurs and nonprofits leaders become immersed in the JLH community and beneficiaries of substantial mentorship and training, such as how to effectively fundraise.

I talked to five inspiring leaders who were awarded JLH grants: a mother in New Orleans who launched a nonprofit that provides mentorship to young mothers; a formerly incarcerated man who founded a re-entry support organization in Milwaukee; an Indianapolis couple that elevates Black artists in a truly sustainable way; a first-in-her-family PhD graduate who founded a nonprofit for Black women and nonbinary people pursuing doctoral education; a woman who began a support group for the caretakers of Alzheimer’s patients after experiencing the mental toll firsthand.

The Holidays touched their lives in a unique way. These are their stories.

One Happy Mama, an organization dedicated to empowering young mothers through mentorship, workshops, and community service, received its first JLH grant in April. It’s already changed everything.

Janitza Vasquez, a longtime educator and single mom of two boys, started a Facebook support group for single moms during the early days of the pandemic. Then, a JLH grant helped her turn those efforts into a full-fledged nonprofit, headlined by a robust and transformative mentorship program geared toward young mothers.

Currently, sixteen young mothers around New Orleans are enrolled in the organization’s Mama Tribe program, which provides them with community and helps them achieve academic and career goals. Participants receive a monthly stipend and are invited to educational sessions, on a range of topics including reproductive health.

“We want to help them develop those soft skills as well as help them figure out who they are outside of motherhood,” Vasquez told me. “As a mom, I can say that once you have kids, it’s kind of hard to focus on yourself.”

Janitza met Lauren and Jrue soon after she received a $35,000 grant from their foundation last spring. It was the first major grant her nonprofit had ever received, and it enabled her to subsequently attract additional funding from other sources.

“At first, I didn’t know anything about funding, so I literally funded everything out of my savings account,” Vasquez said. “After a while, I ended up taking a break because I was like ‘you need to figure out this funding piece because this is not sustainable.’ Once we did get the grant it really helped us step it up.”

Now, Janitza benefits from weekly JLH Fund meetings, which include regular check-ins and detailed training on the ins-and-outs of crowdfunding. “It’s really been a blessing,” she said.

The Community, an organization that prepares incarcerated Wisconsinites as they re-enter their lives after release, is expanding its programming thanks to JLH support.

Shannon Ross spent seventeen years in prison and now runs the The Community, a Milwaukee-based organization that sends out an educational newsletter read by nearly half of the incarcerated population in Wisconsin. He started the organization in 2014, while still in prison, and has been working to support Wisconsinites as they re-enter society.

“We are in the process of creating a fellowship program for incarcerated leaders, to help them be greater assets in their communities,” Ross told me. “Everyone has to be involved in this work for there to actually be a solution.”

Like Vasquez, Ross received a $35,000 grant from JHL. Over the summer, Jrue and Lauren Holiday invited him to join them for a celebrity basketball game in Los Angeles and gave him a booth to present his work, and the Holidays discussed working more closely with them once the Bucks season began.

“Selfishly, it’s really unfortunate that he got traded,” Ross said. “I was looking forward to collaborating with him on some things. Jrue and Lauren were highly respected for the level and the way in which they got out and got involved in the community. It’s a significant loss.”

The Holidays also granted funding to Cohort Sistas, an organization that works to ensure the Black women and nonbinary scholars receive equitable access to doctoral education.

Ijeoma Kola, a medical historian who studies the intersection of race and medicine, became the first person in her family with a PhD when she graduated from Columbia University in 2019.

“I was academically prepared, but really struggled with what people often call the ‘hidden curriculum’ of succeeding in doctoral education, things like how to present at conferences, how to get published in journals, how to get funding to support your education,” Kola said.

Every year, about 55,000 doctoral degrees are awarded in the US, and only 3% of those are given to Black women. Kola began connecting with other Black women who were pursuing doctoral education, who shared an all-too-familiar struggle.

“I’m just hearing the same thing: ‘I don’t know anyone else doing this. I’m the first in my family to do this,’” Kola said. “‘I don’t have any faculty in my department that look like me, that can advise me. When I’m speaking up in class, I feel like I’m speaking up for the entire Black community.’”

That’s why she decided to found Cohort Sistas. The Sista Circle, the flagship small-group mentorship program, pairs participants with a Black woman mentor and three other scholars pursuing similar doctoral education.

Kola credits the JLH Fund for providing her with needed training on how to effectively grow a nonprofit. “They’re really teaching us how to increase communications with our potential donors and how to think about stakeholder development,” she said.

GANGGANG, a nonprofit that works to showcase and elevate the work of Black visual artists in Indianapolis, caught the attention of the Holidays before the organization even applied for grant funding.

In the wake of the racial reckoning taking place in America, Mali and Alan Bacon founded GANGANG in hopes of building out infrastructure to ensure the long-term financial success of Black artists.

“We asked ourselves: what is the thing that moves humanity? What is the thing that brings people together?” Mali Bacon said. “Because of our background in the arts, as individuals and as advocates in the racial and diversity space, we knew it was the kind of thing that could propel cities forward.”

The nonprofit is most well-known for hosting BUTTER, a four-day fine art fair in Indianapolis that has welcomed more than 8,000 attendees and returns 100% of artwork sales back to artists.

Jrue and Lauren Holiday caught the Bacons off guard when they spontaneously attended a mural unveiling that took place the evening prior to the fair’s grand opening. The Holidays had taken interest in local artist Ashley Nora’s mural and opted to support and attend the unveiling. That was the beginning of a partnership, and they subsequently awarded GANGGANG a grant that “served as proof of their continued support”, Alan Bacon said.

“It was refreshing, surprising, wonderful to have sudden and immediate and warm and welcoming response to what we were trying in Indianapolis,” Mali Bacon said. “We appreciated them from noticing from the very beginning.”

The Dementia Care Warriors, an Alzheimer’s caregivers support group, was able to hire a staff member thanks to a JHL grant.

Veronica Shanklin founded the Dementia Care Warriors after becoming a caretaker of both her mother and grandmother, both of whom were diagnosed with Alzheimers. “I’ve been in the trenches with caregiving and advocacy work over the past nine or ten years,” she said.

It started with monthly meet-ups and happy hours and turned into an organization that provides a plethora of resources to family caregivers, such as education programming, community building, and respite scholarships.

Shanklin has organized three conferences since the organization’s inception, headlined by expert speakers, massage therapists, valet parking, and the like. They are meant to serve as an escape for caretakers who work around the clock to support their loved ones, and provide a critical sense of community. Through her programming, she’s been able to impact over a thousand caregivers.

JLH Fund served as the first influx of funding for her work. “We’ve been doing a lot of just really bootstrapped, on-the-ground, type work,” Shanklin said. “Now, we’re able to step up our efforts and use this as kind of a launchpad, kind of a domino, to increase our impact.”

The JLH Fund is unique in that it uplifts smaller nonprofits and start-up efforts.

“It’s hard to find funding opportunities for smaller and new nonprofits because most funding organizations and foundations are looking for more established organizations,” Shanklin said.

Jrue and Lauren Holiday are now Boston residents. That could yield enormous benefits.

Back in April, an anonymous Athletic poll of NBA players rated Holiday both the most underrated player and the best defender in the league. Jrue also brings championship experience, which historically, is critical to a team’s title odds.

But the cherry on top of it all is that Holiday’s impact won’t be limited to the parquet.

“We’re really excited for Boston for get Jrue because you’ll see a bump in impact investment in the community that’s truly authentic, that you don’t see every day,” Alan Bacon, the co-founder of GANGGANG, said.

Forget the accolade, forget the defense. Everyone I spoke to — Shannon, Janitza, Veronica, Ijeoma, Mali — made clear: the acquisition of Jrue Holiday is a massive win for the people of Boston.

You can donate to the social impact fund here.

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