From a young age, Watts native Brandon “Stix” Salaam-Bailey noticed the many barriers African American families encountered living in Los Angeles County.
With some of the lowest to medium incomes, lack of financial stability, the absence of healthy food options, and large gaps in educational equity, Black households struggle to overcome roadblocks that result in missed opportunities to create generational wealth.
In a recent interview with the L.A. Sentinel, Salaam-Bailey talked about starting the ThinkWatts Foundation to combat these impediments and his plans to scale this impactful organization.
When asked about the experience that initiated his interest in becoming a community leader, Salaam Bailey shared, “Growing up in an environment that is economically fractured, you start to identify the things that are missing for the community to thrive.
“As I become more mature and aware of everything going on in my neighborhood, I always said I want to do something for my community. I don’t want to talk about it. I want to be about it. I want to help improve, help bring resources, and I want to create opportunities. Been doing the work since 2008 and started the organization and made it the official ThinkWatts Foundation in 2019.”
Salaam-Bailey’s upbringing prompted his career as a successful entertainer in the music industry as a record producer and songwriter. After an influential meeting with Sweet Alice Harris, who is a veteran Watts community advocate and philanthropist, he began his path as an activist and entrepreneur to advocate for the basic needs of his community. A decade later, the Thinkwatts Foundation has become one of the most unique and effective foundations to help inner-city residents utilize real resources that can change their lives.
The ThinkWatts Foundation is a non-profit organization with a focus on community grassroots activations, along with developing financial literacy programs, custom container housing solutions, and charitable fundraising through entertainment industry efforts. ThinkWatts is responsible for free resources like financial literacy courses, weekly meal programs that feed hundreds of residents, and entrepreneurship training. The foundation has developed 16 outdoor fitness courts, an indoor gym, a free Planet Fitness facility for students, and historical murals in the Watts community.
In addition to working closely in the neighborhood and providing laptops and stable internet to LAUSD students, the foundation also administers work force development training for residents seeking employment, free food distributions in Los Angeles and New York, financial and educational information sessions, assisting individuals with their first bank account, planting trees to elevate the environment, and ensuring that there is access to drinking water for families in Watts and neighboring cities.
As the foundation grows, Salaam-Bailey continues to address fundamental issues. While discussing Think Watts’ current and future goals, he said, “Over the next 15 years, we’re going to continue to address food insecurity. We do food distributions every single week. From there, we’re going to explore how to improve communities who are heavily impacted health wise.
“We are starting an initiative, The Fast-Food Proximity Bill, that focuses on underserved communities where more than three fast-food restaurants are within a two- mile radius, to eliminate over-saturation of unhealthy food while offering tax breaks and incentives for healthier grocery outlets,” noted Salaam-Bailey.
“As far as financial literacy, we are opening a center that will provide economic impact loans, grants, bank accounts, investment accounts, and retirement accounts for individuals to encourage financial inclusion. In the next 10-to-15 years, we’re assisting entrepreneurs by creating centers to develop and help small businesses scale from 60 to 100. We already take them from 0 to 60 but how can we help people launch their brick-and-mortar and get them to the next level using partners like Mastercard and Bank of America.”
Salaam-Bailey believes his foundation can scale these programs in places like New York, Cleveland, St. Louis, and now, with a $200,000 Neighborhood Builder Social Equity Grant from Bank of America, he is looking to package the diverse elements of his growing foundation to duplicate what he calls “Watts Cities” across the country focusing on housing, education, work force, and other resources. Unique elements, when packaged, can be the “model” deployed in other inner-city and low-income communities.
“The prestigious grant we received from Bank of America will help us achieve all our goals by allowing us to invest in the right resources to scale all these different efforts. We’re developing our stem program and strengthening our workforce by training individuals in coding and identifying careers for them through Microsoft, Google, and other STEM-related companies,” he explained.
“We’re utilizing funds to give out grants and assistance within our financial literacy and entrepreneurship program. The program is so effective because we’re paying individuals to learn and equipping them with the information around money management, credit, home ownership, and investing, so they can act on the incentives we give.”
With all the foundation’s efforts to improve the quality of life for Black families, Salaam-Bailey also has plans for environmental impact and affordable housing. As a staple in his community, he has formed deep rooted social relationships building bridges with some of Los Angeles’ professional residents like the LAFC, the LA Clippers, and the Rams. Through intention and connection, the ThinkWatts Foundation is thinking bigger with each plan to advance families and individuals in more ways than one.
Learn more on how to help and become a part of the solution at thinkwattsfoundation.org.