In a technology-driven world, Russell Okung can best describe what he and his Greater Foundation are trying to accomplish by turning to an old proverb.
"I had somebody in my life who was able to tell me I was more than I thought I was, so we want to replicate that and make it repeatable and be able to scale it someday," Okung said. "How can you do that? You can do that by teaching people how to fish. A lot of people have very charitable hearts, they want to give back, but we need to teach people how to fish, how to create something, how to create opportunities for yourself. A lot of people are willing to give you a fish, but not enough will teach you how to fish. That's what we're about. That's what happened to me, and that's what we're about, and that's what we want to be able to give back to people."
The Greater Foundation, which was founded by Okung and former Oklahoma State teammate Andrew McGee, won't be taking kids on fishing trips anytime soon, but what they do want to teach is practical, modern-day skills such as coding that can help at-risk and disadvantaged youth thrive in today's economy.
But to do that, Okung needs your help. The idea behind Greater isn't to throw money at a problem, but rather to recruit leaders in the community who can teach and mentor kids who need it. Greater's objective, as stated on its website, is: "Through systematic and institutional change, the Greater movement will break the cycle of at-risk youth and create a new class of global citizens that are built and equipped to grow through their circumstances with personal responsibility to their communities and the world."
And to do that, Greater is hosting an event Thursday, February 25 at the Experience Music Project Museum that Okung calls "a call to action."
Greater launched last fall, but as Okung says, "Now it's time to get people involved. This is our call to action. If you're in technology, an entrepreneur, you're a business owner, we want you at this event. We want you there, we want you to be a part of what we're doing. If you're trying to figure out a way to get involved, even if it's not monetary, we want your time. We want to get you into these places in South Seattle, in Rainier Beach, and be a part of what we're trying to do.
"We're going to get together some of the top technology leaders in Seattle to come address the issue of diversity and inclusion in the technology sector. Part of addressing it is creating a pipeline of students that can feed into these companies."
The Greater Foundation is already working with local nonprofits such as the Technology Access Foundation, Seattle Urban Academy, Code Fellows, City Year and Urban Impact. Thursday night's event (tickets can be purchased here) will feature a panel discussion that will highlight the challenges and promises of technology as a tool for community empowerment. Panelists include moderator Zithri Ahmed Saleem, an award-winning STEM educator, nonprofit executive and social entrepreneur; Dr. Jeffrey Robinson, associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at Rutgers Business School; Jose Torres, CEO of REFLX Labs and co-inventor of Boogio Smart Shoe Sensors; Sherrell Dorsey, diversity and tech writer featured in Fast Company, NextCity, and Triple Pundit and founder of Build The Good; and Antwuan Wallace, researcher who maps the demographic intersections and trends in access, adoption and use of broadband-enabled digital technology.
It's an impressive list of modern-day fishermen, if you will, who Okung hopes can, along with anyone willing to come to Thursday's event, help build the next generation of leaders and innovators.
"We see this shift that's moving towards the innovative economy," Okung said. "And regardless of background, regardless of your ethnicity or regardless of your socioeconomic status, you deserve to be included."