Nike Inc.’s Black Community Commitment grantees reflect on Black pioneers

Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, Omi Bell and Tanya Van Court share their thoughts on historic Black pioneers who paved the way.

(Left to right) Black Girl Ventures CEO Omi Bell, All Star Code Executive Director Danny Rojas, Goalsetter CEO Tanya Van Court, Management Leadership for Tomorrow Head of Advancement Cristal Baron, and Nike SCI Inclusive Communities Sr. Director Karol Collymore at Nike BCC Four-Year Milestone, “Path to Progress.” (Photo credit: Nike, Inc.)

Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, Omi Bell and Tanya Van Court are some of the entrepreneurs that have been recognized by Nike Inc.’s Black Community Commitment program as change makers because of their work and impact in the Black community.

The Black Community Commitment program began in June 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. At the time, Nike, Converse, Jordan Brand and Michael Jordan committed a combined $140 million over 10 years to invest in and support organizations focused on economic empowerment, education and social justice to address racial inequality for Black Americans.

These active individuals are inspired by the work of Black pioneers who have made history and paved the way for them to do the work that they are recognized for today.

On Thursday, theGrio caught up with Edwards, Bell and Van Court at the “Path to Progress” experience, the fourth-year milestone event for BCC in Washington, D.C.

Edwards is a footwear designer with over 30 years experience and president of Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design, the only HBCU in Michigan and the only HBCU with a shoe design program. He is also the founder of JEMS, the first Black-owned athletic footwear factory in the U.S.

(Left to right) StoryCorps author Jason Reynolds, Legal Defense Fund Associate Director-Counsel Tona Boyd, New Ballet Ensemble and School Founding CEO & Artistic Director Katie Smythe, Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design founder and president D’Wayne Edwards and Nike, Inc. VP, Chief Social & Community Impact Officer Vanessa Garcia-Brito. (Photo credit: Nike, Inc.)

The launch of Edwards’ athletic footwear factory was inspired by Jan Ernst Matzeliger, inventor of the shoe lasting machine.

“Jan Ernst Matzeliger took U.S. shoe making from 50 pairs a day to 700 pairs a day with his invention 141 years ago,” Edwards reveals. “A Black man was so instrumental in developing our history in the footwear industry, but so many people don’t even know this man even existed. Jan is one of countless Black folks that has been in this industry that have been forgotten.” 

Van Court is the founder and CEO of Goalsetter, a financial app and education platform that makes financial education fun and engaging for every family member. She credits entrepreneur and philanthropist Robert F. Smith.

“Robert F. Smith is obviously the pinnacle of what that [building wealth] looks like and what that means for the Black community,” says Van Court. “But I don’t just admire him because he’s built wealth. I admire him because he uses that wealth to truly impact our community in meaningful and significant ways.”

Bell is the CEO and founder of Black Girl Ventures. The nonprofit works to create access to capital for Black and brown women business founders. For Bell, what’s key is the work of those who were a part of rent parties during the great migration in the 1900s. 

“Black people migrated to Harlem, and white landowners raised the rent,” explains Bell. “You had people like Fats Waller, Langston Hughes, Duke [Ellington] helping people throw these events; that was their way of getting access to capital, and then [paying] their rent to stay in their homes.”

Bell continues: “Fast-forward [to] today, we feel like we are living out our ancestors’ wildest dreams.”

Click here to learn more about Nike Inc.’s Black Community Commitment and the 2024 grant recipients.

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