Nakia Cole is building community, one young adult and family at a time.
Youcould say that Nakia Cole’s love for her community is in her blood. Cole grew up in a time where people knew and cared about their neighbors. “We were raised in a community where we looked after one another.” Her family would check on the elderly in her South Fort Worth neighborhood to pick up their grocery list and shop for them.
Cole’s career path since graduating from Abilene Christian University has clearly delineated her Purpose, one of the Blue Zones Power 9 principles. “I always wanted to help people do better,” Cole says. She describes an ice-breaking activity she did with the youth on her caseload as a probation officer. She’d get them to write an essay about how they came to be on her caseload. She learned a lot about the kids – including if they could read and write. “After going through their essays, we threw them away,” she says. “I wanted them to know they were starting fresh with me.”
Cole taught middle school chemistry in Fort Worth for three years and says her success with her students was tied to her understanding that students need instruction on how to behave in an unfamiliar situation. “Kids are looking for structure,” she says. Currently, Cole is a coordinator for the Fort Worth ISD’s Family Action Center in the Historic Stop Six neighborhood where she develops grassroots activities to address the needs of the area. The Center provides a wrap-around approach to students and community members who may need services as varied as assistance with applying for Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, who may be unemployed, or need physical or mental health care. “I start by asking the families how they are,” she says. “A lot of times a parent is there trying to get behavioral services for their child, and I’m the first one to ask them how they’re doing.” The Center partners with Workforce Training Program and offers pathways to some skill certifications that, as she says, “pay over minimum wage.”
When asked about the most critical thing the Fort Worth community can do to help under-resourced communities, Cole is direct. “I would like to see our city change the narrative in relation to race relations.” she says. “I’m proud to be Fort Worth-born and raised. In Fort Worth, if nowhere else, I’d like to see everyone be offered the same opportunities and chances.”
As part of her Purpose, Cole recently started the non-profit N2C Youth and Community Services, advocating for youth primarily in the 76104 Zip code. The goal is to expose them to STEM activities, with a focus on photography and technology. “In the 11-block area between Terrell and Vickery streets, there’s literally nothing for the kids to do. There’s no community center. There’s also no supermarket,” Cole says. “The only thing we have are convenience stores, which are full of things kids don’t need.”
Eating with a Blue Zones Plant Slant in a food desert is understandably difficult. “I try to eat healthy,” she says. “We have to eat from the earth.” Cole works with local businesses, like Mrs. Renfro’s Salsa, to get kids thinking about how to improve their neighborhood –– which also keeps them out of trouble and develops their leadership skills. “I’m trying to teach them how to serve, and become part of their neighborhood,” she says. Like her mother and grandmother taught her, Cole is building community, one young adult and family at a time.