Syreeta Gates Interview
... I believe we should not only be giving back when we have "made it" but also during the process; it is something that is embedded in your nature and who you are as a person.
Syreeta Gates, Founder of Yo Stay Hungry
Why is giving back important to you? How have you seen yourself grow as a person as a result?
I believe in giving more versus giving back. I say giving more because I want to do things that directly align with what I am passionate about. Whether it is talking through an idea with someone, or speaking to a group of young people, those are things that match my strengths. For me, giving more is a start. Even now when people are giving, they should be giving in such a way that they are excited about it, not because it is something they have to do or are supposed to do. They should be excited about giving more to their community in such a way that is a win-win situation. If you win, the person that you are serving and/or supporting wins.
That is an interesting concept. Can you talk about what you consider the difference to be between giving back and giving more?
People have always said give back right? Personally, I feel it has a connotation that says you do your thing in the world, you leave the hood and then you give back, as if to say you have to “make it” before you can give. I believe we should not only be giving back when we have "made it" but also during the process; it is something that is embedded in your nature and who you are as a person. That is why I like to say I give more rather than I give back because I have always been about a life of service. My family is big on service so the idea of giving back never added up for me because we have always given. We fundamentally believed in that as a family.
As a digital archivist, what is the importance of preserving history?
As far as me and archiving, my grandmother, Jessie Mae Jones Doherty died when I was 21. I was an undergrad during that time and I had been chasing this idea of what my grandmother would have been down with. During that time, a book came out called Vintage Black Glamour. It is about black people from the 1920s, 30s, etc. and just about their swag. The authors had done a kick-starter for the book and as a contributor, instead of putting my name, I added my grandmother's name. What I started to realize was that I could keep my grandmother's memory alive by talking about her in interviews and putting her name on things. From that, I became intentional about how I could keep people’s legacies alive.
Connecting that back to service, if we are not intentional about documenting our people, years could pass and no one would know they existed. If there were not any books on Blacks in philanthropy, or Hip-Hop and philanthropy, where would you go to find that information? I want to see a world, especially around hip-hop in which not only people, but the culture overall lasts forever because we have contributed to it. Because that is my commitment, I am always thinking about what does not exist and how can we create it. That is how Yo Stay Hungry happened. Currently, we are working on a documentary centered on hip-hop journalism. If not me, then who? Archiving and preserving the history is so important because we could get to a point where people are forgotten because their story was not preserved. How can we intentionally preserve our digital history? Are we backing up those photos, conversations, etc. that we have online? What do we do with the culture we created? It would not be fair of me not to think about the longevity of that.
How will you continue to shift the culture through your philanthropic endeavors?
I think one of the most important things to realize is that being a non-profit is not the only way in which we can give. At Yo Stay Hungry, anything we do, we include young people, always. From the staff of the documentary that we are working on, to the food competitions. We currently have so many young people involved in the aspects of the business overall, and that is service; the skills they could learn, hands on experience, the connections. All of those things are equally as important as going to a soup kitchen, as donating your time to a walk. We are always rocking with young people and I think that is how we will continue to shift the culture.
What is your organization's biggest need?
Currently we need someone who can work on sponsorships and another person for business development.
Finish this sentence: I give too because...
It is necessary and important. If you are not pulling up the people in your community, other artists and sharing the gifts you have with other people, then what is the point of doing it? I always keeping in mind there is going to be somebody who is looking at my work and is going to reach out and want to know how they can do what I do. You can create a legacy just by being a good person.
****This Interview has been edited for length and clarity****