Words can’t quite describe the grit it took Malika Whitley to pull herself out of homelessness, no less as a teenager. Of the thousands of homeless youth in Atlanta alone, Malika’s story is just one amongst the pile. As a twenty-something grad from Oglethorpe University and the visionary behind ChopArt, her narrative softens the blow of the startling statistics surrounding destitution.
For every story like Malika’s are countless others that don’t share a silver lining. Recognizing her own beaten path, Malika set out to give the streets’ unheard voices the tone of empowerment through artistic expression. We recently sat down with the CEO to hear why she returned to her roots when founding ChopArt and how young professionals can help homeless youth discover creative outlets.
What is ChopArt and your journey in creating it?
ChopArt is a multi-disciplinary arts nonprofit specifically for homeless middle and high schoolers. We serve about 10,000 youth a year in Atlanta, New Orleans, Accra, Ghana and Hyderabad, India. We are a little organization with a big reach and that comes from the passion of our volunteers.
My connection to youth homelessness is my own; I experienced it both with my family and by myself. I saw how homelessness makes youth feel invisible, unheard and judged which is one of the most taxing components of the experience. While I was homeless, art took me out of that world and gave me an opportunity to create something new, something different from my reality. Art really helped me and it really helps our kids, too. I started ChopArt in Cape Town, South Africa in 2010 and from there we went to India then came here to the U.S.
What exciting moves is ChopArt making in 2017?
We are launching programming in New Orleans with a performing arts intensive at a shelter for women and children. We’re also launching in Accra, Ghana with a 3-week performing arts intensive. In big 2017 news, we got a Neighborhood Grant from the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta which will start then, as well. Our last scale will happen in 2017 because we need to take care of home for the 2019 Super Bowl; that is the biggest event annually for sex trafficking and our youth are very vulnerable.
In 2017, we will still be maintaining our programming here in Atlanta; we work with five shelters year-round and 40 on an ad hoc basis. To round out our services we have two youth art shows annually and do street outreach through a partnership with StandUp for Kids. In May, we are also doing our two-week camp in Hyderabad, India which serves 6,000 – 9,000 youth.
Tell us about the Board opportunities at ChopArt.
We are looking for Millennials with drive to be an active part of our organization. Traditionally we have had a young board; everyone who has served on our board has been under 35. A successful board member is an action-oriented go-getter willing to proactively fix issues I might not even see. We certainly problem solve as we build, so we need folks who can help work on the plane while it’s in the air. A strong, diverse network is important, as is knowing how to generate resources, be it in-kind donations, volunteer mobilization, or grant writing.
This is a great opportunity since we have so much young, contagious energy and a welcoming environment for board members with diverse experiences. Also, we are a scrappy organization so this is a unique opportunity to shape how we develop. We want to get to a place we are serving a million kids and our board will help us make that happen.
It’s also a chance to get involved in something happening in our backyard. Youth homelessness is a difficult local issue as it is tied to Atlanta’s sex trafficking. There are 3,300 homeless youth each night in Atlanta and over 12 homeless youth die daily. Reading those statistics makes the problem hard to wrap your arms around but serving on the ChopArt board is an empowering way to make a difference to this problem in our city. We can’t all save the world and not everyone has big money, but everyone has a skill set to bring to this issue.
The requirements are pretty standard for board services: a 2-year term with mutual reviews and committee service. Board members have to go to at least 80% of meetings and events. We also need our board to help raise funds to make our mission sustainable; they can do that in a variety of ways – from donating, soliciting their networks or writing grants. In order for the board to really understand what we are doing and make it real, board members need to volunteer. We are all part of the ChopArt team together.
The applications are on our website under the ‘Join Our Team’ tab. We are accepting applications for our Advisory Board, Committees and Board. While the Board is what I described, our Advisory Board and Committees are project-based and work for people without too much time or experience. We would like to get all the Board applications in before the end of 2016 but Advisory Board and Committee Members can apply anytime.
Even if you are not sure if you qualify or have time, give it a shot! We are always willing to work with folks. And if board service isn’t your thing, we always need help in shelters, street outreach, and the office. Or if you are not sure you are a good fit, refer someone. This is really important work but can’t get done without people getting involved.
Where did your name come from?
South Africa! We started there so I wanted to pay homage to our origin. Shaav is an all-encompassing word used by young creatives. I wanted to bring that youthful, fun element into the name since that’s what we are about.
Interested in joining the ChopArt board, advisory, or committee? Find additional details here, along with volunteer opportunities or a chance to donate. Be sure to give them some love on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter too.
All images are property of ChopArt.