Nyah Marshall, Howard University News Service
A message that Brenda Phillips, the founder of the South Jersey youth empowerment non-profit, WeCare, often reiterates is “I am someone who fortunately but unfortunately has a story for everything.” She is someone who didn’t become a product of the negative environment she grew up in, but instead used it to fuel her passions, and become a person that would inspire others to make it through their own trials and tribulations. This inspiration that Phillips spreads can be directly traced back to the mentees she has had over the years.
“She motivated me when I was younger to get out and always give back to the community,” said Khristina Washington, a 19 year old freshman at Stockton University in New Jersey who was apart of WeCare since she was 16.
Phillips, 33, grew up in Newtonville, New Jersey, with her seven siblings, in a small household that lacked parental support and often had no heat or electricity. While battling the physical stress that her environment put on her, she was also impacted by the trauma that resulted from her being sexually and physically abused as a child. She could have allowed her circumstances to define her, but her strength, faith and passion for writing, gave her what she needed to become someone that would influence and inspire others to make it through their own trauma. In the same small town that she had a painful upbringing in, Phillips founded the organization, WeCare, in 2013.
Phillips is a firm believer in the African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” and she created WeCare because she wanted to be apart of that village, speak life into youth and expose them to different, positive experiences and environments outside of what they’re familiar with.
“I started WeCare hoping that I can shift some youths minds, because sometimes when kids are exposed to certain circumstances or situations they think that’s their normal.”
Shifting minds is an understatement for what Brenda Phillips has done for youth in Southern New Jersey and Philadelphia. Just to name a few of WeCare’s accomplishments; over the past eight years the nonprofit has: sponsored 10 girls to go to the Uniquely You Summit, sponsored several youth field trips, hosted four annual community “fun days”, and has done three college tours.
In Cumberland County, the County that WeCare operates in, the youth population of students aged 11-18 consists of 53.8% Hispanic, 23.7% White, and 18.4% Black students; about 62% of those students are defined as “economically disadvantaged.” Also, about 62% of students receive free or reduced lunch because their families earn at, or below, the U.S’s Department of Agriculture income eligibility guidelines. These statistics would characterize the county as a low-socioeconomic status county. Also, according to the 2019 New Jersey School Performance Report, Cumberland County is the poorest county in New Jersey, has the highest teen pregnancy rate, and the lowest average standardized test scores in all of New Jersey schools, by county. From these statistics one can see that Brenda Phillip’s youth engagement organization, WeCare, is needed to help the youth of Cumberland County become more than what their environment exposes them to and offers them.
Without a doubt, Phillips has made an impact through WeCare, in fact, many of her former mentees gave testimonies to share how significant the nonprofit and Brenda Phillips has been for them.
Jamera Jeralds, 18 year old senior at Buena Regional High School in New Jersey, said that Phillips supports her mentees to have self confidence and belief.
“She motivated me to be myself in every way possible and to stand for what I love,” said Jeralds.
Vivyanna Onna, 19 year old Cumberland County resident, echoes Jeralds’ sentiment on her trying to make her mentees into better people.
“She taught me to always take charge and show people that I am a leader instead of a follower,” she said.
Outside of WeCare, Phillips has also built a brand for herself and found a way to empower people with her voice. She has traveled to schools all over South Jersey and Philadelphia to share her story and continue to inspire youth. In just seven years, she has reached over 50,000 youth. She goes to these schools to speak about purpose, loving oneself, and recognizing how much power and influence one can have. Her expert skills at youth development are essentially giving youth of today the inspiration they need to empower the youth of tomorrow.
Despite her strides, Phillips has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Three days before schools all over the U.S. shut down last years, Phillips signed her biggest contract yet. She signed on to be a speaker at a school, do two programs, and four presentations throughout the year. Due to the pandemic shutdowns, this accomplishment was taken away from her in a matter of moments, causing her to again struggle with her purpose. However this dilemma, only presented her with a new opportunity. On October 2, Phillips launched her clothing brand, B. Inspired. All the affirmations she would say to herself, tell her mentees, say at her school presentations, and journal, soon became quotes on her brand’s clothing items. The first shirt she sold was called the “Love Letter Tee;” it had affirmations like “Be unstoppable” and “Be unforgettable,” written on it. The first 15 “Love Letter Tees” sold out in a matter of hours, and now over 200 people have one.
From WeCare, to speaking to youth at schools, to creating an entire clothing brand dedicated to empowerment, it has become evident that everything Brenda Phillips creates and does is to “inspire and impact everyone else.”