Many know Hill Harper – the former actor on CSI: NY now actor on Covert Affairs – or Hill Harper – the writer of phenomenal books such as Letters to a Young Brother: Manifest Your Destiny, The Conversation, The Wealth Cure and Letters to an Incarcerated Brother. However, many may not know Hill Harper – the founder of Manifest Your Destiny Foundation. With this blog, I would like our audiences to get to know this side of Hill Harper. I have teamed up with the Executive Director of his foundation – Akello J. Stone – to discuss how this organization is giving back to the community.
Before I begin, I want to tell our readers a little bit about Akello – who also is no stranger to film and television. Akello is a freelance content development producer who has spearheaded many digital technology integration projects on various college campuses and also has worked on promotional video production projects, including EPK (Electronic Press Kit) videos for musical artists and actor reels. He has also created promotional videos for various personalities and entities. Aside from his involvement with film and television, he has been involved in many youth development programs including some right here in Atlanta such as Hands on Atlanta, the NFL Youth Education Town, College Park Elementary Saturday School and Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Atlanta.
MC: Akello thank you for this outstanding opportunity to showcase Manifest Your Destiny Foundation in this blog. It is an honor to showcase this celebrity non-profit organization that is making a difference in the community. One of our chief aims with Women in Film and Television Atlanta (WIFTA) is to also make a difference in the community, particularly with women in this industry – so I’m very honored to have you. It’s also a bonus to hear that you have had involvement in local Atlanta youth organizations but can you tell us more about the Manifest Your Destiny Foundation and its purpose?
So, as you said, my name is Akello Stone and I am the Executive Director of the Foundation. I actually started working with the organization back in 2008. I came on as a board member and me and several other members of the board developed the Summer Empowerment Academy (SEA) which is our flagship program and this was an outgrowth and evolution of the books Letters to a Young Brother and Letters to a Young Sister. So it aligns itself with core values and the purpose of those books.
The organization itself – Manifest Your Destiny Foundation – really is all about how we find our purpose and how we develop the potential for reaching that purpose. We are focusing a lot on youth, specifically with the SEA program – we’re focusing on youth making that huge transition from the 8th grade into the 9th grade and instilling in them attributes of empowerment. I also want to share with you how we define empowerment because it can be defined differently depending on who you are asking! We define empowerment as “observable, multi-dimensional, behavioral and attitudinal characteristics that influence the achievement of success; capitalize on the development of self-esteem, self-advocacy and self-awareness; enhance critical problem-solving skills; demonstrate the adoption of an optimistic future for perspective; and reveal the significance of personal value to both the immediate community and the larger collective.” (chuckle) That’s a lot, huh?
So, you can tell there are a lot of things going on and we are not just motivating but we’re creating a lifelong trajectory of self-advocacy and empowerment that can take them throughout their entire [school] year and future years. Ideally, I consider the program to be a way in which we can dismantle the ‘cradle to prison’ pipeline. We want to fill college classrooms, not prison cells and we are strong believers in the things that we do in order to accomplish that.
MC: Is there any chance that you plan on expanding this organization to other states, namely Atlanta, Georgia?
Our organization operates solely in Los Angeles right now; however, we had been putting extreme efforts into packaging our curriculum and content – the modules, the operational strategies, the core values – into something that we can provide to other organizations who would like to operate their own summer empowerment academies. This has been a project that is very close to my heart and very much close to Hill’s as well. Working for Hill, I can say that we’re definitely aligned in terms of what we think needs to happen and the delivery systems necessary in order to carry that out. But before we release the curriculum [to other organizations, elsewhere], in order to maintain the integrity of the program model, we want to make sure that everything is really good – really solid before we put it out there because we don’t want to put something out there that is not effective.
We have a great evaluation team and I would just like to mention that there is a number of people over the last six years who have helped tremendously and there is voluntary contributions and efforts towards developing and involving the foundation and we definitely see ourselves expanding. In addition [to expansion efforts], we have an annual toy drive at “Supper Club. It’s a night club venue for adults and in order to get admission, you would have to bring a toy – that’s how we collect our toys; also partnering with Toys for Tots and the Westwood Transitional Village. We collect about 1400 toys that way (chuckle) which is huge – it’s the largest toy drive in southern California. So, we definitely want to expand, we want to grow, and we want to reach more young people than ever before.
MC: Tell our readers how they can donate to your organization or get involved with Manifest Your Destiny Foundation.
You can go to our website at www.mydf.org. Keep in mind that we do accept individual donations of every size imaginable. We also partner with other organizations that are doing similar work. Our biggest funders are large corporations that work with us through their community development/corporate giving divisions. We have a multi-tiered sponsorship program with a wide range of opportunities for exposure and participation in MYD-planned events. We always invite our sponsors to come and see, firsthand, the transformative work we are doing with the youth who participate.
Photo provided by Akello Stone