Black Community Building Collective: Glover Empower Mentoring
The Black Community Building Collective is a coalition of Black-led organizations brought together by United Way of King County to build relationships, form strategies that impact the Black community, and to fund those strategies using participatory grantmaking, an approach that cedes decision-making power for funding to communities impacted by funding decisions. The Collective launched in 2020 to invest $1.5 million in local, Black-led organizations. The Collective comprises 15 Black-led nonprofit organizations—who know their communities best—that determine how funding is directed to support equitable recovery and long-term viability of King County’s Black community. We are currently investing an additional $1.5 million this year, and we anticipate additional funding in later years.
Each month, United Way will profile a Collective member. This month, we’re spotlighting the Kent-based organization Glover Empower Mentoring (GEM). Launched by former Kent Public Schools counselor Kendrick Glover, GEM addresses the social and emotional needs of youth and young adult men of color to help prevent and reduce delinquency, school truancy, criminal activity and other high-risk behaviors. United Way interviewed GEM founder Kendrick Glover, who’s proven he’s come a long way from his hometown in Southwest Mississippi.
United Way: What’s your story, Kendrick, and how did you get started in this work?
Kendrick Glover: I’m originally from Mississippi—Natchez, MS. I grew up in Natchez and went to Seattle right before Hurricane Katrina. I transferred from Jackson State to Seattle University. I got a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, a master’s degree in education and I’m on my last chapter of my dissertation for my Ph.D. at Seattle University. I wanted to leave Mississippi because of the severe weather, and I had an aunt in Seattle who said, “Maybe you want to give this a try.” It was a total culture shock. In Natchez, you hear three different languages in a week—English, Spanish and Chinese. In Seattle, you hear 120 different languages a day! You hear it everywhere you go, especially in the work I was doing in schools. I’m hearing five-year-old kids speaking three languages at one time. But as the giraffe did, I adapted to my environment: I had to stretch my neck out and look over the trees to see how I was going to eat. I immersed myself in this culture and figured out how to navigate it.
I landed my first internship with Councilmember Larry Gossett. I got bit by the community organizing bug. I just started working in the community, being at his hip, doing everything he did. I then started working for the King County Sheriff’s Office, heading the Police Athletic League. I was over the work from the community side, and that’s how I got into the mentoring work, which was the birth of Glover Empower Mentoring (GEM). Funding for the Police Athletic League sunset, but I had been working there in schools for three years, doing this work for kids. I just decided to start my own program in 2014, while I continued to work at the schools as an academic counselor. That’s how I learned how to negotiate contracts with school districts and make sure all the paperwork was legit.
Then, once I formalized the organization and got it under 501-3 status, I started doing after-school groups. And in 2016, I just said, “You know what? I’m just going to go all in.” I quit my job and started doing GEM full time. I had no money, no grants, anything. I just jumped out on a leap of faith.
United Way: That’s quite a leap!
Kendrick Glover: I tell people all the time the story Steve Harvey shares about the parachute: You don’t know if your parachute is going to work if you never have to pull it. I jumped off that parachute and pulled that string, and that parachute picked me up. And it’s been floating me ever since. I give credit to God, because I was making $72,000 as a school counselor in Kent, but something was in my heart that said, ”Just leave. It’s going to work out.“ I quit in October, and I didn’t have income for the next six months. I didn’t know where it was going to come from. I took out all my savings, my 401(k), everything was drying up. And with the grace of God, just like that—our first grant came in for $400,000 from Best Start for Kids. And it was on from there. Ever since then, we haven’t looked back.
It was a lot of testing limits, pushing boundaries and writing my own boundaries. That’s what helped sustain what we’re doing because we believed in it so much. This wasn’t something somebody else created and then I just latched onto it. This is something I took my time with, planned out and I knew it was going to work because I was willing to give everything I had.
United Way: What makes Glover Empower Mentoring impactful?
Kendrick Glover: Glover Empowerment started out to be a listening ear to some of our young men in the community. It started in Kent because I was a high school counselor in Kent, and I used to see young men on my caseload not coming to school, and when they did, it was only for a short period of time. I started asking them what was going on, and they started telling me. So, I said, “Let’s not worry about school. Come to the gym after school, we’re going to shoot some basketball, eat some pizza and talk. It started out with three kids, then five, then ten. The next thing you know, I got forty-five kids in the gym after school on Tuesdays and Thursday, ready to talk, eat pizza and play basketball. It was one of those things where it was very remarkable to see that all you needed to do was ask the right questions so young people knew that you cared. That’s where that statement comes from: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I live and die by that one. There is not one young person that I came across in my last 13 years doing this work that will see me today and not give me that respect. And they’re 25 or 26 years old now.
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.Kendrick Glover, in a quote often attributed to US President Theodore Roosevelt
Glover Empower Mentoring is just one of those organizations that wanted to stand in the gap for our young people. We wanted to make sure that they had an opportunity for their voices to be heard, uplifted and taken seriously. A lot of times the problems our young people face, we think we know but we have no idea. And all we need to do is just sit back and listen. We now get referrals from all over systems in King and Pierce counties, from juvenile court, adult court (we work with young adults up to age 24), counselors at school, directly from judges. Some are self-referral, where a young person heard about the program and will say, “Hey, I need somebody to talk to.”
United Way: Where would you like to see Glover Empower Mentoring go in the future?
Kendrick Glover: I want to do expansion work. I’ve put a lot of time and energy into a community I’m not from, and I love it. I wouldn’t change it for the world. But where I’m from in Mississippi, I see a lot of my people need help, so I’d like to expand the program and the efforts I’m doing in communities in the Pacific Northwest to communities down South.
For more about Glover Empower Mentoring, click here.