by Minister of Information JR Valrey
Project Level is a phenomenal arts and
entrepreneurship program for teens and young adults in San Francisco. It is
headquartered at the African American Art and Culture Complex at 762 Fulton in
the Fillmore district, and it was founded in 2012, by Richard “Big Rich”
Bougere and Danielle Barr. It is a vital resource for young people and Frisco’s
youth culture, and they always have some things happening. This year they are
planning a college tour where they will be visiting Howard University, among
other colleges on the East Coast. I sat down with Project Level co-founder Big
Rich to see what they were up to.
M.O.I. JR: What is Project Level? And how did
Rich: Project Level is a non-profit youth organization that serves underserved
communities by teaching them how to create opportunities for themselves by
utilizing the arts and their own creative talents. Not only do we nurture and
support their craft but we also prepare them for the industry they wish to have
a career in. We are able to do this by equipping them with industry standard
equipment and exposing them to real life opportunities that correlate to their
M.O.I. JR: How and when did you get involved
with Project Level?
Big Rich: Danielle and myself founded Project
Level in 2012. I was blessed and lucky enough to have had a career in the music
industry that allowed me to establish a lasting legacy worldwide and especially
here in the Bay Area. During my time as an artist, I was able to create a lot
of significant relationships. My intentions were to retire and utilize the
relationships and resources I had made to help other artists operating as an
executive and CEO.
Danielle and I soon realized after trying our
hand in management that there were many obstacles for adult artists and that we
couldn’t help them the way we genuinely wanted to, so we went back to the
drawing board. We really wanted to give back to the community that gave so much
to us, so we decided that the best way to do that was to give everything we
have and pour it into the youth. We wanted to get to them as early as possible
to establish a foundation they could stand on for life.
M.O.I. JR: Since you and Danielle have been
running it, what have y’all been up to?
Rich: We hit the ground running in 2012 and haven’t looked back since. We’ve
served over 1,000 youths since our inception and a majority of our staff is
made up of alumni – former students.
past summer we employed over 75 youth through Mayor London Breed’s initiative
Opportunities for All and created a hard copy (and digital version) original
magazine called “Anthem.” We’ve also had over five highly successful college
and career tours.
this time Danielle and I have been able to build and focus all of our resources
towards helping and empowering the youth. We continue to build relationships
with entities such as Airbnb, Poshmark, JYC, Parks and Rec, and many others to
open more doors for our students.
This past summer we employed over 75 youth through Mayor London Breed’s initiative Opportunities for All and created a hard copy (and digital version) original magazine called “Anthem.” We’ve also had over five highly successful college and career tours.
M.O.I. JR: What happened with Project Level
and Forever 21 last year? How did y’all work it out?
Rich: Last year we had an unfortunate incident at Forever 21 where my wife
Danielle had been accused of stealing. It happened during the time when we
employed the 75 youth through OFA. I mentioned earlier that we were creating a
magazine and for this magazine we were doing a photo shoot for about 10 of our
students who were to be featured in the magazine.
the day before the shoot, we did what we had always done – and went shopping.
We did our normal runs through the Westfield Mall, and headed over to Forever
21 to finish up shopping. To make a long story short, the police were called
because the manager suspected us of stealing, specifically Danielle. The cops
approached Danielle and asked to search our bags. Of course we allowed them to search
all of our bags, because we’ve never been thieves or had any reason to steal.
officers cleared us of any wrongdoing and notified us that one of the staff
members had “seen” Danielle putting clothes in her bags that came from the
other stores. We explained to them that we had been comparing clothing items to
make sure everything matched. Once again, we’ve shopped at F21 many times
before, and as a collective we have spent thousands of dollars there.
take pride in our reputation, and even after being embarrassed publicly, we
still understood how someone could mistake Danielle taking clothes in and out
of the bag to compare them for stealing. All we wanted was for them to make
amends by simply apologizing.
manager on duty who called the police refused to even meet us face to face, let
alone apologize. We felt insulted and knew that we couldn’t stand for this type
of treatment. Danielle and I recorded the tail end of this ordeal and shared it
on our socials. We didn’t do it as a call of action because we intended to have
our lawyers handle it, but the public and our communities completely got behind
us and the posts went viral.
story got picked up by multiple news outlets and made it to the paper. After
receiving so much attention, Forever 21’s top brass reached out wanting to find
a resolution. With that, we met with their execs at City Hall and came to a
would join forces to create and release a full-blown capsule and that all
proceeds were to be donated to Project Level. We were given full control of
designing the clothes, marketing and the entire roll out. Not only that, but we
are to contribute to rewriting their training and policy on their racial
sensitivity training. We are glad to have taken a negative and turned it into a
positive that we were able to share with the community.
M.O.I. JR: As a provider of youth services,
why are programs like Project Level vital for the development of constructive
young people in the Bay Area?
Big Rich: They’re vital because of the simple
fact that the saying “it takes a village” has shown time and time again to be
absolutely true. At Project Level we provide those things that all kids need
and want whether they know it or not. Those things being family (support) and
opportunities (resources). With those then they are able to open and trust the
guidance you provide. Without that trust you can’t help develop these young
M.O.I. JR: What are some of the projects that
Project Level is working on now?
Big Rich: As I mentioned earlier, we are all-hands-on-deck
with this Forever 21 collaboration still, but we do have artists that have
music projects that are due to be released. We also have students who plan on
releasing capsules for their own individual clothing brands. The film department
is working on a few short stories and documentaries. We have many other
projects that are in the wraps that we’ll be revealing soon, so stay tuned.
M.O.I. JR: Can you talk a little bit about the
Project Level College Tour that y’all are raising money for? What made y’all
pick the colleges you picked?
Rich: So here at Project Level we like to be innovative in everything we do, so
from the beginning we decided that we weren’t going to do your traditional
college tour. We decided to do a college and career tour.
did our first one in 2013, and have done one every year since. We made sure to
put an emphasis on the career side because we know a majority of our entire
student population wanted a career utilizing their artistic gifts, so we made
sure we exposed them to the industry. This year we decided to go to the East
Coast and visit some historically Black colleges such as Howard. We chose our
colleges based on the arts and their history.
M.O.I. JR: What do you want the youth to get
out of the college tour?
Rich: We want these kids coming away from the college tour knowing that they
have not only the ability but also the support to attend any school they visit.
We also want for them to be inspired by the professionals who have careers in
the industry they wish to thrive in. We want them to feel as if their futures
are in their hands.
M.O.I. JR: How could people donate? How could
people get in touch with you?
Rich: If anyone out there wishes to donate, they can do so by following the
Project Level Page on Instagram, which is @ProjectLevel and clicking the link
in the bio. We also have a Project Level Venmo, which is @Project-level. I
myself can be reached by direct message via Instagram @Big.Rich and
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey, journalist, author and
filmmaker, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook. And tune in to BlockReportTV on YouTube.
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