San Diego’s Paving Great Futures honors graduates of work readiness, leadership programs

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San Diego's Paving Great Futures honors graduates of work readiness, leadership programs


Paving Great Futures, a mentoring and leadership nonprofit, will honor more than 50 graduates of its programs during its sixth annual gala graduation and fundraiser on Saturday.

The nonprofit, which serves at-risk communities in San Diego, will livestream the celebration on its Facebook page instead of hosting an in-person event. Local speakers also will discuss racial and criminal justice reform.

Paving Great Futures operates seven programs that help young adults, formerly incarcerated individuals and Black and Latino women to develop business, civic engagement, leadership and culinary skills.

Maria Muhammad is one of the graduates. The southeastern San Diego resident recently launched a social enterprise nonprofit to help community members adopt eco-friendly lifestyles by making small changes to their routines and homes.

It has been a dream of hers for years, she said, but it finally came to fruition with support from mentors with the Paving Great Futures’ women entrepreneurs program.

“A lot of times we venture out to do these businesses but we really don’t have a blueprint or a mentor to help us grow and avoid the missteps and pitfalls,” Muhammad said.

In addition to being honored at the gala, Muhammad will receive a $5,000 business grant from the nonprofit.

“It really helps to build your confidence and to know that people believe in your vision,” Muhammad said.

Armand King, chief operating officer of Paving Great Futures, said he admires every single graduate, because each could have done something else but they chose to stay in the programs to improve themselves.

“That alone fills me with hope for our community,” King said.

The nonprofit also will honor former participants who have gone on to start their own businesses.

Oscar Lee Black III graduated from its culinary program in 2012. He has since launched a catering company, Black Vibez, in Tucson, Arizona, where he lives with his wife and six children.

He learned to run a business through the program and learned the value of giving back to the community, he said. Black is leading an effort to feed homeless people and others harmed by the pandemic in Arizona.

The online graduation and gala will also feature panelists Chef Jeff Henderson, who served nearly a decade in prison and is now an award-winning chef; former rapper Amir “Loon” Muhadith; and local activists Khalid Alexander, Edward Little, Aaron Harvey and Barry Washington.

Tony Gwyn Jr, former baseball player and broadcast journalist, and Fox 5 Broadcast Journalist Maria Arcega-Dunn will host the panel.

The gala will serve as a fundraiser for Paving Great Futures’ new location in the Jacobs Center in Lincoln Park.

It will include a silent, online auction and there will be musical performances by The Lyrical Groove and singer Mandi Jo.

The goal is to raise $200,000 to operate a 5,000-square-foot commercial kitchen, offices and classrooms for the nonprofit’s Culinary Hospitality Administration Management Program, or CHAMP, King said.

“The participants in our program, they aren’t just participants, they are our family,” King said. “This is theirs.”

The gala will be posted at 5 p.m. Saturday at www.facebook.com/pavinggreatfutures.





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