ShaQiyla Banks has always wanted to help young people overcome the hurdles in their lives and reach their full potential as adults.
That led her to a career in criminal justice and into an entrepreneurial venture, Equity Initiative Inc. a non-profit organization dedicated to providing a safe hang out space with plenty of activities to keep young people in marginalized communities busy and productive.
“I’ve been working for the Department of Corrections for eight years as a detention officer,” she said. “I put together programs, recruit volunteers and try to keep the kids in custody busy all day. It made me aware of the need for similar programs for kids who are not in trouble with the law and hopefully, avoid them ever getting into trouble.”
She founded Equity Initiative in 2019, holding events on Wednesday nights in her lifelong church home, Greater New Testament Missionary Baptist Church, led by Senior Pastor Keith Cullers.
“Then, in 2021, I was blessed with a grant that enabled me to secure our current building and fully establish Equity Initiative, Inc. as a 501(c)3 organization. And now we are open from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday,” she said. Since 2021, Equity Initiative has served more than 400 young people in the Wichita area.
She posts a monthly activities calendar on the website (equityinitiativeks.com).
Mondays are typically life skills lessons or peer-to-peer group activities. A recent activity was “Open your own restaurant” and participants made flyers and printed menus as well as cooking and serving a meal. Tuesdays are devoted to life skills training such as tips on self control with community partners, Renewed LLC or tips on succeeding at work. Wednesdays are tutoring nights, while Thursdays are devoted to just hanging out with a movie and popcorn or shared activities.
Snacks and soft drinks are part of every session.
Special Events outside the Lounge are planned for some Saturdays and include attending sports or community events such as Open Streets ICT and Equity Initiative also offers programs in the schools one or two days a month.
Twice a month on Mondays, the Activity Lounge is closed to the public and open exclusively for kids from the Ahn’s Place Group Home in Wellington to come in for activities. Those children are all in foster care, she said, so developing trusting relationships with adults is doubly important.
Partnerships Broaden the Program
She also partners with other organizations to offer special programs in the community aimed at helping young people gain the skills they need to be successful adults.
Most recently, she offered a special session on developing leadership skills in partnership with two fellows at Lead for America, Brad Richards and Jeremiah O’Bryant.
“That program was focused on self-care, time management, goal setting,” she said. “We try to get the kids out into the community. That program was at the African-American History Museum, so they got to have a tour and learn more about the museum at the same time.”
She said the Equity Initiative also encourages kids to look into higher education opportunities and offers employment to young people.
Another important focus is mental health programming. Participants learn skills they need to be able to cope with the challenges they face.
“Our kids often experience violence in their lives. My ultimate goal is to play a role in making our communities safer and in teaching young people how to make good decisions and how to communicate effectively,” Banks said. “They need to be taught how to share their thoughts, how to handle give and take in conversations and how to ask questions to get the help they need.”
Giving Back Matters
Banks said she was raised by a single mother and knows first hand how hard it can be for parents to cope.
“I played basketball in middle school and high school and my coaches were my mentors,” she said. “They encouraged me and helped me and I feel like I’m giving back.”
She knows plenty about kids in trouble and kids lost in the system from her day job and it feels good to be able to help a child before he or she gets in trouble, she added.
She said her next goal is to find a larger space with a gym area and get more boys involved in the program.
The ultimate goal is to know that her home community in Wichita is a safer place for adults to flourish and kids to grow up with all the life skills, guidance and resources to ensure the success of future generations, she said.
The Equity Initiative activity lounge is open Monday through Thursday from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at 1608 E. Waterman. All activities and events are free of charge.