Supporting Community and Fostering Positive Change for Oakland’s Youth

Stephen and Ayesha Curry, co-founders of the foundation Eat. Learn. Play., discuss how collaborative partnerships and aligned values are creating lasting change in the lives of underserved children.

At this year’s Conversations for a Changing World digital event, we heard inspiring stories from innovative change makers across the globe. That included Stephen Curry, All-Star point guard for the Golden State Warriors and 2x NBA MVP, and Ayesha Curry, restaurateur, entrepreneur, and best-selling author, who shared how they’re helping to unleash the potential for every child in Oakland, California, with their foundation, Eat. Learn. Play. Below are highlights from their conversation with award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien: 

Developing the Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation

The Currys reflected on their experience when Stephen started his professional basketball career with the Golden State Warriors. “When we moved here almost 12 years ago, the Bay Area and Oakland became our adopted home,” said Stephen. “They've given us so much support, and there's such a connection with the community.” 

He continued, “We've grown up [living] a life of service, and our families have done an amazing job of setting that standard. It was always a priority to figure out how to impact where we live.”

Knowing they wanted to do more, the Currys decided to put their efforts toward supporting children in the Oakland area—specifically helping to end childhood hunger, improve access to a quality education, and provide safe places for children to play.

“With historical issues rooted in how our world works, we're trying to create a better existence for our young people."

Stephen Curry Co-Founder Eat. Learn. Play.

“We realized that we could fight these causes collectively because they're core pillars for children: eating, learning, playing,” said Ayesha. “All three of these elements are essential for raising amazing children who can thrive as they grow into adulthood.”

Managing the Challenges of the Pandemic

Launching in July 2019, the plan for Eat. Learn. Play. was to focus on access to healthy food. But with the onset of the pandemic, the team realized it had to respond to this need faster than ever imagined. 

Stephen shared that when schools shut down, they realized how many kids rely on school meal programs for breakfast and lunch. The Eat. Learn. Play. team had to move fast to find partners to help figure out how to safely and quickly open food distribution sites for those kids and their families. “It was a collaborative effort,” shared Stephen. “People showed up in a meaningful way and volunteered to spring into action. Since April 2020, we've distributed over 17 million meals.” 

Valuing Literacy in Early Childhood

In addition to providing healthy nutrition, supporting early childhood education is a key pillar of the Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation. Ayesha said she is often asked, "Why literacy first?" She shared that only 19% of Black students and 24% of Latinx students in the Oakland Unified School District are reading at their grade level. 

Literacy, she continued, “It’s the root. It's the beginning of everything. Once those literacy skills are there, studies show kids thrive throughout their entire education, especially if we get them reading at grade level before third grade.” 

Stephen added, “We're focusing on early-stage development, so kids can thrive and set the foundation for a lifelong journey in learning. This is a small step, but we'll see lasting change.”

Forming Partnerships and Strong Teams

“Anything great that you do in life, you don't do it alone. We all know that,” said Stephen. He discussed how Eat. Learn. Play. has collaborated with World Central Kitchen, Oakland Unified School District, and Alameda County Community Food Bank, organizations that intimately understand the needs of the community. These organizations have been supporting the community for a long time, yet they continue to need more funding and resources to carry out their missions. He added, “You can do amazing work, create programs, create an impact with the right collaborative partners that will set up a long-lasting run of changing kids' lives.”

When forming new partnerships, Stephen said it’s essential that partners listen to the community. “Workday has been an amazing ambassador and believer in what we're doing at Eat. Learn. Play., and was one of our first and biggest donors in terms of our early work, especially in the food space,” he added. “At Eat. Learn. Play., we ensure 100% of the money that comes into our foundation goes into the community. It's our job to ensure we're shepherds of those resources with the partners we work with.”

Ayesha expressed how they’re fortunate to have a great team and partners. “We operate from a place of impact over legacy,” she said. “It's not about us. It's about all of these amazing partners that we have and are bringing together, and it's about the work. It's about the change that we wish to see within the community.” Finding partners that share that sentiment and value-set is essential. 

Destigmatizing the Need for Help

Since the onset of the pandemic, everything has become more challenging, including travel to food distribution centers. With the creation of the Eat. Learn. Play. Bus, the team will be able to distribute 50,000 hot meals and 500,000 pounds of produce a year to the community. “I'm grateful that we're able to meet people where they are now, within the community,” said Ayesha.

“Once those literacy skills are there, studies show kids thrive throughout their entire education, especially if we get them reading at grade level before third grade.”

Ayesha Curry Co-Founder Eat. Learn. Play.

With its brightly colored paint job and blasting music, the Eat. Learn. Play. Bus screams fun, joy, and excitement. And, the bus embodies all three pillars of the foundation:

  • Eat: Stocked by the Alameda County Community Food Bank, the bus supplies the community with grocery staples, fresh fruits and vegetables from California farms, and nutritious meals from local restaurants.

  • Learn: Curated with the help of the Oakland Literacy Coalition, Literati, and the Oakland Public Library, the bus hosts a free bookstore with age- and culturally-appropriate books for Oakland children. The goal is to distribute over 100,000 books this year.

  • Play: Inspired by Stephen Curry’s profession, the bus has a basketball hoop attached for kids to safely play and have fun with others in the community. 

Honoring Young Talent in Our Communities 

It takes a village to create change. In the midst of all the sadness, trauma, and devastation of the pandemic, Ayesha reflected, “Goodness and humanity still exists, and people are willing to help. It's such a beautiful thing.” 

Stephen observed that there’s so much young talent in the community. They’re wise and motivated—they just need an opportunity, and the right resources and pathways to realize whatever big dreams they have in this world. “With historical issues rooted in how our world works, we're trying to create a better existence for our young people,” he added. “This work is meaningful, not just because we want resources accessible for everybody. … Our young people have so much to offer in terms of challenging the status quo.”

Stephen continued, “It's been an interesting journey, for everybody in every walk of life, but for programs that are serving the community, the pandemic has only grown the need exponentially. It was great to be able to spring into action quickly, especially being such a young foundation. Hopefully the community feels loved, seen, and heard.”

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