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Impact Spotlight: Shante Walker and The Niles Foundation

Uram Lee_TNF_ShanteWalker_Portrait_02

On February 10, 20 volunteers from the Angel City community descended on a small park near USC built by Caltrans and maintained by the Niles Foundation (TNF), a local nonprofit focusing on environmental justice, food security, and access to green spaces in South LA. The cleanup was the first event of the new partnership between Angel City and TNF.

CEO Shante Walker, who founded TNF in 2019, originally conceived of it as focusing on youth entrepreneurship development, but when the pandemic hit just a few months later, the group had to pivot.

“We went through our community and we said, ‘what should we do?’” Walker remembers. “And we realized the biggest needs were food access, shelter, money, water, a clean environment, so that's the direction we started walking. So we started building urban farms and gardens, especially in empty lots, abandoned lots, spaces that were unkempt. We started turning these spaces into green, outdoor, environmentally friendly, food-accessible spaces.”

Walker grew up in South LA, an area where residents often don’t have easy access to healthy, affordable food, and that suffers from pollution and a shortage of green space.

“Families are trying to figure out, ‘how am I going to spend my money for meals for three kids? When I go outside, where can I take my family where it's beautiful and I don't have to be among pollution and smoke?’” says Walker. So a lot of our work is to remove challenges and barriers to beautifying the community, to bringing economic opportunity, and to self-advocate and to be resilient.”

The foundation built six gardens in less than six months and soon began broadening their focus—first partnering with Caltrans to build the pocket park where the February 10 event was held and then starting a clean energy initiative where local students receive paid job training installing solar panels on affordable housing.

TNF is named for Walker’s grandfather, Charles Mac Niles, a calypso musician who immigrated to LA in 1950 from St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. Niles was a pioneering black performer who appeared in films at a time when the industry was almost exclusively white (as Walker points out, Culver City, at the time the center of the movie industry, was a sundown town).

Walker and her mother are also both musicians, but the connection between her grandfather and her foundation goes deeper than that.

“I built the Niles Foundation in honor of him to show that whatever it is that you want to accomplish, regardless of your socioeconomic background, regardless of where you live, regardless of where you come from, it's not about these things,” says Walker. “It's about what you do with them. Part of that was, I took what he started, and I started to use this as a voice for everyone to be able to live out their dreams.”

Walker connected with Angel City at a storytelling event at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. From the moment she and her team learned about the club and its pioneering 10% sponsorship model, “it was almost like we were kindred,” she says. “Like, okay, we're supposed to be here. This is supposed to happen.”

Though the connection might not be obvious from the outsider, Walker sees a clear alignment between the two organizations. “We definitely see the opportunity to teach one another,” she says. “We're in the environmental space. Angel City is in the sports space. There's a huge connection between health and fitness, because to be healthy is to be active. So bringing those two things together, especially in areas that are disadvantaged and who may not necessarily always make those connections with health, food, and access to green space, we see the opportunity to to really create some amazing events and to collaborate on new ideas.”

As part of the new partnership, ACFC donated 10% of proceeds from its Black History and Futures Month merch line, designed by local artist Tyler Mishá Barnett, who attended the park cleanup, to TNF.

In addition to their urban farming initiatives, TNF’s other projects include a mobile grocery store housed in an electric fleet truck, as well as an upcoming EV community transit line that will serve South LA residents, specifically in Council District 15.

“Being able to give back in every single possible way is important,” says Chris Fajardo, ACFC’s senior director of community. “Dollars are really important, [and so is] mobilizing and coming out in person to help the community and get your hands dirty. We're able to bring in volunteers from different parts of our community to show up and see what impact can be, but also get some visibility for an organization that might not have that opportunity.”