On Dec. 15, 2018, I flew home to the San Francisco Bay Area to host my Take Wings Foundation’s 21st holiday dinner with about 20 girls ranging from age 13 to 18 years old.
As a young girl, growing up in San Francisco, in the Bay View area, in a neighbor-HOOD called Hunter’s Point, I was faced with a lot of challenges. Hunter’s Point (HP) is one of a few pockets of “ghettos” in the city of San Francisco, where drugs and gang violence was and still is prevalent.
Growing up in this environment, a lot of my friends were selling drugs and/or gang-banging. I remember being the same age as these girls and having to make some pretty weighty choices and, depending on the choices made, it could alter the path of your life. I made plenty of wrong choices, but the few right choices I did make, along with God’s grace, allowed me to go on to college and make a life for myself that I love.
In December 1997, my first year on The Steve Harvey Show, I decided to do something to encourage, inspire and motivate other girls growing up in my old neighborhood to make decisions that would start them on a path to a successful life. I invited two other celebrity friends — Suzanne Daniels (“Parenthood”) and Kellie Williams (“Family Matters”) — to join me in speaking to the girls. I have hosted this dinner every year since then, with the same intentions of pouring positivity and love into the girls, who are growing up in at-risk communities and foster care homes in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Throughout the years many of my peers have joined me at this dinner — Nicole Ari Parker, Regina King, Malinda Williams, Essence Atkins, Gabrielle Union, Vivica Fox, Wendy Raquel Robinson, and more. This 21st year, my beautiful and impactful friend Ta’Rhonda Jones (“Empire”) joined me, and the girls of Take Wings Foundation loved her. It was a beautiful afternoon of sharing and being transparent with the girls. Ta’Rhonda even blessed each of the girls at her table with a pair of Vans tennis shoes for a Christmas gift. We laughed, we cried, we shared and we prayed.
I took the time to recognize and shine light on one of our girls, Ja’Leah. Ja’Leah has been with about three years. When she first started to attend our monthly workshops, she would come uptight, not really participating in activities or discussions. This holiday dinner she not only was flowing and smiling around the room, but she recited a poem with so much passion that it made me cry.
We show up to be a blessing to the girls, but they bless us! To get to love on them and receive their trust and love in return is the greatest gift.
To make donations and get more information about Take Wings Foundation, please visit us at TakeWings.org.
Terri J. Vaughn is an actor, producer and director and co-founder of Nina Holiday Entertainment.