In the beginning, Jrue Holiday just needed a reason to go play basketball while the world was on fire. It was summer 2020 at peak COVID-19. Everything was on lockdown. Cops had just killed George Floyd. Protesters filled the nation’s cities’ streets. President Trump hid in the White House basement while fences went around it, guarded by soldiers carrying assault rifles and dressed for war. In the midst of all this, the NBA was bringing teams to Orlando to finish the season in the bubble.
This gave Holiday some complicated feelings. On top of all that, his wife, retired soccer star Lauren Cheney Holiday, was pregnant. “Being with my family was really, really important,” Jrue says. “Having to leave them for that long—I needed motivation.”
As a guard for the Pelicans at the time—he’s with the Bucks now—basketball felt pointless. “We were thinking … maybe I would sit out,” he says. “I was struggling to go to the bubble and play. Socially, there was a lot going on.”
One night while they were talking it through, Lauren asked, “Why don’t you just donate your salary?”
At first Jrue thought she meant his entire salary from the 2019–20 season, some $27 million. “It threw me off,” he says.
He was down, though. “We were gonna be good. I’d played long enough. We’d saved enough money.”
No, Lauren said—the salary from the bubble.
“It was perfect,” Jrue says.
He went to the bubble, averaged 15 points and five assists per game, and made $5.3 million in that time.
“How far can that take us?” Lauren asks. “How many people can we impact?”
Jrue and Lauren used the money to form the Jrue and Lauren Holiday Social Impact Fund. Their vision was to support Black-owned businesses, which became disproportionately harmed by the ongoing pandemic, as well as Black-owned nonprofit organizations. “Black-owned businesses get less than 2% of bank funding,” Lauren says. “They may have an idea and get everything set up, but for them to actually get a loan or be able to get the funding they need is extremely challenging and, I would say, unfair. Jrue and I were like, How can we bridge the gap at all?”
They also wanted to provide resources to help them succeed once they did get money. To that end, they teamed up with crowdfunding experts and business coaches to create a network for their class of recipients, namely organizations such as The Kinship Advisors, Fund Black Founders and Crowdfund Better. They found themselves creating a community of people who want to help others in the same way.
“That’s just how we live,” Jrue says. “We always have people around us, literally all the time.”
As we spoke, their house was bustling with various friends and family. “For me and Lauren to have alone time to ourselves, we literally have to leave and go somewhere else,” Jrue says, laughing. “We don’t have alone time in our home because we feel like we built this community and this village, not only for our kids and family but friends we’ve invited in and other people who have become friends. We’re always having people over. It’s just our lives. So when it came to these businesses, it was kind of the same thing. We want them to have the support of community, because we’re the same way.”
Over the past couple of years, they awarded grants to everyone from lemonade-stand owners to people in the trenches fighting for civil rights and justice, primarily in Los Angeles, New Orleans and Indianapolis. All of them say that as much as the initial grant money helps—usually in the range of $25,000–$50,000 per person—greater value comes from the community they join and the guidance that provides.
“Not only have we grown our money to be able to give more each time and for longer,” Lauren says, “but we’ve also grown the idea of it.”
When Dale Dowdie first heard of the JLH Fund, he didn’t think it was legit. He’s been running a website called BlackFacts for some two decades now. The website features some 700 videos about important Black figures from throughout history. “Part of Black history is American history as well,” he says.
It’s a side gig, “a passion project,” says Dowdie, a computer consultant by day. Over the years he’s come across several funds and people supposedly trying to help, and too often they provide nothing but disappointment. “So we didn’t really think it was serious,” he says.
His organization received $50,000, but Dowdie says the crowdfunding support and business coaching were the true prize. Dowdie wasn’t keen on crowdfunding at first, but he learned that people wanted to support causes when they knew the people and passion behind them. “The JLH Fund really helped us to encapsulate that and be concise about what our message is, know what our mission is, know what our priorities and principles are, and then share that with the world,” he says. “Now schools are licensing our product, and it’s all because we put our voices out there and because we put our faces out there and told our stories … We are going from zero to probably a multimillion-dollar company in the next couple of years.”
“We are like the Netflix of Black history videos now,” Dowdie says.
Such stories are common among the now some 150 recipients of the JLH Fund, such as Natalie Pipkin from Indianapolis, who runs Black Worldschoolers, driving around a refurbished school bus that’s essentially a bookstore on wheels. “[The JLH Fund grant] just accelerated the whole process,” Pipkin says. She thought it would take her several years to sell enough books and build her business enough to make the impact she wanted to make. “The JLH Fund saw the need, just like I saw the need,” she says. “And they came alongside me so we can make an impact right now. So it took that maybe six-year dream to six months. And now we’re on our way.”
Brittany Rowe, a theater actor from New York, started the Hella Awkward card game business with her brother and his girlfriend. Inspired in part by the HBO show Insecure, the goal for Hella Awkward is to recapture what they experienced during lockdown: “We just started having really dope conversations,” she says, “and we wanted to bottle that into a product to help other people connect like we were … sparking connection, laughter and fun, one awkward conversation at a time.”
The idea blossomed when they expanded their focus beyond helping friends connect more deeply and realized the ways this game could connect strangers from different worlds. “Our mission,” Rowe says, “is really to just inspire and create meaningful connections across culture through conversation.”
Rowe and Hella Awkward benefited greatly from the partnerships with Fund Black Founders and Crowdfund Better. They went through “three to six months of just education through these two companies,” Rowe says. They met weekly, had homework and assignments and learned how to build their business. “We all just kind of hang out for two hours once a week and give each other critiques and build together,” she says.
That’s been the best part of what the JLH Fund gave them: “The highlight was knowing that we had these other businesses that were going to be mentoring us,” Rowe says. “This is actually a family unit. I remember Jrue and Lauren, when we were first told we received the grant, they said, ‘You are now part of our family. We’re here for you.’ And they were not lying. … They’re actually going into the nitty-gritty of all aspects of our business. It’s not just, ‘Here’s some money; have fun.’ It’s, ‘We’re going to make sure that this money works well for you and gets you the goals that you have, so that you can achieve what you want to achieve.’”
Attorney Jill Collen Jefferson started Julian Legal, a nonprofit devoted to civil justice named after her mentor, the late activist and attorney Julian Bond. After spending some time working corporate law in Washington, D.C., Jefferson has now devoted her life to fighting for Black civil rights and justice. Through Julian Legal, she investigates matters such as lynchings that have gone otherwise uninvestigated and unprosecuted. “Jrue and Lauren are the first people outside of my family to donate, to invest in Julian financially,” she says. “The first ones.”
And she needed them when they arrived. “I had run out of money,” she says. “I was flat, flat, flat broke. … We were drowning. We were so behind on our bills. … The lights were about to be cut off. That kind of situation. We were doing this great work, but we had just run ourselves down to empty. … It let us breathe.”
As the Holidays developed their fund, part of their mission has also become encouraging other athletes to work with them or at least follow their blueprint. “Something that Jrue and I believe in so strongly is supporting each other,” Lauren says. “If someone is passionate about this work, then come alongside us, partner with us. We would love to help you, teach you, however we can.”
The Holidays just closed their third round of funding in the spring, raising another $1 million. They had 1,800 new applications, from which they selected 50 new recipients.
“We’re going to give to this as long as we can,” Lauren says.