Chandra Pitts//Photo by Carlos Alejandro
Chandra Pitts hated school and felt she had no creative outlet when she was growing up on a South Jersey farm. To combat those concerns and support her lifelong passions to “make life better for kids” and bolster education and the arts, she founded One Village Alliance in 2009, “inspiring greatness through education, entrepreneurship and the arts.”
A big focus is Wilmington’s East Side, which the 41-year-old Wilmington resident calls “Delaware’s most violent community” and an area also beset by a lack of “father figures, role models and mentors.” It also has problems with drugs and crime. “There are great needs and a huge void,” she says. “We have to create positive space for a community to thrive.”
The alliance reaches 600 youth and families annually through programs in nine schools in Delaware and South Jersey, five correctional facilities, two community centers and www.iamthevillage.org.
“We grow youth from the inside out,” she says. “We ask ‘What is it you love to do?’ not ‘How do you fit into a college syllabus?’ There are so many paths to success.” She’s an example of that holistic and social approach: She never went to college and espouses lifelong learning.
Her son has supported her values by working as an alliance camp counselor and helping in other alliance programing. Jahlihl Coleman, a University of Delaware student and entrepreneur, says he was brought up to “work hard and help people—and give them the opportunity we had.”
Pitts begins the outreach early, because she says children as young as 8 are building beliefs that they can’t succeed in the three Rs and perhaps throwing their lives away. She also reaches out to “a captive audience of incarcerated youth” that she fears that society is likewise dooming.
Two of the alliance’s most successful programs combat and redefine stereotypes and expectations, she says. One has the obvious title of Girls Can Do Anything. The other, Raising Kings, encourages males to adopt healthy lifestyles and follow the philosophies of Martin Luther King Jr. “We show them successes,” she says. “The greatness that men of color can be.”