What's the Profit in Nonprofits? | Areva Martin | TEDxCrenshaw

I grew up on the wrong side of the

tracks in st. Louis Missouri but thanks

to hard work and the help of a lot of

people tremendous opportunities have

come my way I was able to go to law

school I opened one of the largest

african-american owned law firms in Los

Angeles run by a woman I was able to

start a non-profit and give back to my

community I get to appear almost nightly

on national news shows where I get to

stand up for issues and speak out on

things that interest us the most and

just last week that was backstage at a

talk show and I heard this investment

banker he was yelling into his cell

phone there's no profit in nonprofits he

scoffed he stopped me in my tracks I

almost laughed then I thought about the

food banks providing food to hungry

families the nursing agencies providing

prenatal care to single low-income moms

so pro bono agencies providing free

legal services and other supports of

families I even thought about the

smiling faces of the kids in my

nonprofit when they received their free

brand-new backpacks filled with school

supplies but most importantly I thought

back to one hot summer day in st. Louis

when I was 12 years old see it can hit

95 in st. Louis without thinking twice

and with the high humidity it can feel

like steam is rising up from the

sidewalks especially if you've been


four hours in a long line like my

brother Rodney and I were waiting for

cheese now see neither one of us would

have been out there but our grandmother

heard that they were giving away free

cheese to families like ours and the

housing projects all over the country so

grandma sent us out to get it

Rodney was mortified but see grandma had

been shot in a domestic violence

situation when she was 32 she was at her

best friend's house and she and her best

friend found themselves raising my

siblings and me so they needed all the

help they could get there wasn't any

work for folks in wheelchairs in those

days no handicap ramps no special

services and my grandmother's disability

check didn't go far enough to make ends

meet so Rodney and I stood in that line

waiting for cheese probably melted

cheese given that heat and humidity

somebody in that line said this was

government cheese but they were wrong do

you call the government when you're in

need isn't it the folks in your local

communities that you look to maybe the

person sitting next to you the church

down the street your neighbor or loved

one maybe even people in your community

that you don't even know but who have

come together in a non-profit to do good

it wasn't the government that put food

on our table it wasn't the government

that taught kids like me and after

school programs or taught me how to open

my first bank account or get my first

job and it definitely wasn't the

government that taught me how to swim on

the other side of town

it was nonprofits and why does everybody

call them non

it's when we all profit see as a kid I

didn't know that word

and I couldn't appreciate how much

nonprofits had done to improve my life

and when I was pushing my grandmother

around in that big iron wheelchair

I wasn't thinking how great it would be

to help others I was thinking I want to

go outside employee like the rest of my

friends and sometimes I was even

thinking why me

but see my life today would be a big

surprise to that 12 year old little girl

but not to my grandmother she knew she

was laying a foundation for me that

would be like bedrock when I needed it

most and did I ever need it when my son

marty was diagnosed with autism I was

completely devastated it took me a while

before I could even say the word without

weeping and some days I couldn't get out

of bed but gradually thinking back to

that line I realized that when my

grandmother sent Rodney and I out to

stand in that line for cheese it wasn't

just about putting food on the table it

was to teach us invaluable lessons about

humility generosity and resiliency and

thinking about my grandmother strength I

was able to summon my own I knew I had

to be at my strongest when I felt at my

weakest I thought about what would my

grandmother do and I went to work

I read everything I could I talked to

health care providers educators teachers

parents anyone that would provide

information I learned that autism was

the fastest-growing childhood disability

in the country impacting one in 64


I learned that african-american and

Latino kids are diagnosed two to four

years later than their typical peers and

I learned that thousands of kids right

here in our own Los Angeles community

suffer to access services just because

of the color of their skin and the more

I learned the more passionate I became

about trying to find a way to help

others see I wasn't looking to become an

autism advocate but autism advocacy

found me and when I had done as much as

I could do to help others and I was

trying to figure out what was the next


I remembered the cheese see I was too

young to learn the name of that

nonprofit that had managed to bring all

of that yellow cheese into my

neighborhood but I never forgot the

faces of the staff and the volunteers

that passed it out they were doing good

and they knew it I'll never forget the

joy that I saw in their faces so when it

became my time it was almost like second

nature for me to start a nonprofit I

call it the special-needs Network it

turns out families were hoping for the

services that we would bring and now

after 10 years we've helped 50,000 kids

and families right here in our Los

Angeles commune

some may say arriva it's just one

nonprofit but we've touched the lives of

millions of kids and families across

California and we've helped to elevate

the issue of autism in underserved

communities we've elevated that issue to

a national level that nonprofit proves

that that investment banker was wrong

there is profit in nonprofits so if you

are passionate about a cause if you care

deeply about a a group of people who you

know are working to change the lives of

others do something get involved and

when you've done all that you can do

individually find a group of people and

start a non-profit the impact that you

will have on the lives of others it's

immeasurable the efforts that you can

make to change the lives of others will

change you in ways you can't even

imagine and if you get stuck and you're

wondering what the next step should be

do like I did remember the cheese thank