Sullivan Foundation Cancels Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat and Faculty/Staff Summit

Due to concerns about the coronavirus, the Sullivan Foundation has canceled the Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat and the Faculty/Staff Summit scheduled for March 27-29.

“At the Sullivan Foundation, we prioritize the health and safety of our students and faculty members above all else,” said Sullivan Foundation President Steve McDavid. “Our staff and several board members have met several times to discuss our worst-case scenario plans. In light of recent events and the uncertainty of the coronavirus, my board is advising me to suspend all student and faculty programming for the spring semester.”

“It is with great sadness that we cancel these events, but all of us at the Sullivan Foundation feel it is best to protect our students and faculty first,” McDavid added. “We will be refunding all payments made to attend the Retreat and Summit.”

The Fall 2020 Ignite Retreat is scheduled for October 16-18 in Asheville, N.C. Click here to learn more.

Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat: Inspiring a New Generation of Changemakers

A hip-hop educator who teaches language arts through rap lyrics. A publishing prodigy who launched a successful girl-power magazine at 15. A master storyteller who has taught leadership development at companies like Nike and PepsiCo. The Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat has some heavy hitters in the lineup, and they’ve got a plan to inspire a new generation of college-student changemakers at the weekend-long event, taking place March 27-29 in Wake Forest, N.C.

The deadline to register for the Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat is Wednesday, March 11. Click here to learn more and to sign up.

Designed for college students with a passion for social change, the twice-yearly Ignite Retreats features exciting workshops, activities and opportunities to connect with a tribe of like-minded individuals who want to make a real difference in their communities, their country and their world. Over three days, a team of facilitators, coaches and conspirators lead the students on a journey to discover how they can change the world in a positive way—through social entrepreneurship, founding a nonprofit, launching a social-change project, or by simply cultivating their own leadership skills and creative talents.

photo of India Larry, a student attendee of the Sullivan Foundation Ignite Retreat

India Larry, a past student attendee of the Sullivan Foundation Ignite Retreat

Meet the Ignite Retreat facilitators: Jarren Small of Reading With a Rapper teaches ELA skills through hip-hop

The Ignite Retreat offers three workshop tracks:

Personal: For students who are still uncovering their calling and want to better understand their skills and passions, build self-confidence and explore the mindset of a social entrepreneur.

Problems: For those students who have a social issue or a set of problems they want to work on but don’t know how to get involved, this workshop track helps them develop concrete and practical skills.

This track is designed for students who want to dive deeply into a concrete solution, campus initiative, project or venture they’re trying to bring to life.

Building a Leadership Team

This year’s workshop leaders and presenters include Spud Marshall, founder of the and innovation director of 3 Dots in State College, Penn.; Jasmine Babers, founder and CEO of Love Girls Magazine; Reagan Pugh, founding partner of Assemble; Jarren Small, cofounder of the Reading With a Rapper educational program based in Houston; Nicole Kelner, cofounder and COO of Coding Space and founder of Lemonaid; Josh Nadzam, cofounder and director of On the Move Art Studio in Lexington, Ky.; Adrienne Wright, executive director and CEO of U-Turn Sports in Richmond, Va.; Jason Reed, founder of Reach USA; Danielle Espiritu, learning success director of WeThrive; and Abu Fofanah, founder of Power Your Launch Marketing Accelerator.

photo of Spud Marshall at the Sullivan Foundation Ignite Retreat

Spud Marshall

Marshall puts together the roster of Ignite Retreat facilitators and coaches for each event. “We look for emerging leaders across the country pioneering novel solutions to a wide array of problems,” Marshall said. “Our hope is that the leadership team that the students get to meet during the retreat will give them an exciting array of possible career paths and approaches they may apply to their own journeys.”

Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: Love Girls Magazine founder Jasmine Babers shines spotlight on “everyday girls”

“Some of our coaches have started million dollar companies, some are working on grassroots and small-scale nonprofits,” Marshall added. “Others tackle challenges through public policy, while still others work through school systems or private enterprise. I’m particularly excited about the team we’ve assembled for the Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat. This group represents some of the folks I most respect and admire in the social change space, and it will be a humbling opportunity to spend a weekend together with nearly 100 college students.”

The Ignite Retreat: A Life-Changing Experience for College Students
College students who have attended past Ignite Retreats often describe them as life-changing experiences. “The Ignite Retreat demonstrated unapologetic and honest empowerment of youth by unlocking the passions and curiosities of both extroverts and introverts alike,” said Jonathan Molai, a 2019 graduate of Campbell University and attendee of multiple Ignite Retreats and social entrepreneurship field trips sponsored by the Sullivan Foundation. “It was truly amazing to see how much each individual had grown by the end of the retreat.”

Related: Jonathan Molai: “My life was forever changed” by the Sullivan Foundation Ignite Retreats

Jonathan Molai

Many of the student attendees arrive with ideas for personal changemaking projects that need some fleshing out. For example, Haleh Ghaffari, a student at Randolph Macon College, wants to use journaling to help promote mental health at her old high school. She has been keeping a personal journal for years that includes quotes for people suffering from depression, anxiety or self-harm. “When I was in high school, I had a really bad living situation, and I felt just so alone in the world,” she recalled. “The journal was a way to not feel so alone, to feel there was something good in the world [and to inspire] self-love. As I just kept going throughout the years, it kept getting bigger and bigger.”

Ghaffari plans to work with her high school counselor to create a journaling project that starts with her own journal. “The counselor will give it to other people who have gone through the same thing, and then they will make their own journal and give it to the counselor,” she said. Over time, future students will have access to these journals of former students who went through depression, anxiety and other mental-health issues. “To me, it’s so important … to let other people know they’re not alone,” Ghaffari said. “I know what it’s like, and I don’t want other people to feel what I felt if they don’t have to.”

Blaise Gourley of North Carolina Wesleyan College already had a project underway before coming to the Fall 2019 retreat. He launched the IMPACT Wesleyan Business Society, a program for business school majors and minors, especially international students. “It focuses on practical skills that you might not learn in class as well as networking. We have guest speakers [from the business sector], peer-to-peer collaboration where you can present business ideas and get feedback, and practical projects that get you engaged in different activities that can be added to your portfolio.”

Related: Ole Miss changemaker Cecilia Trotter learns to say yes to risks and new life experiences

Gourley said he liked the mix of people and perspectives that he encountered at the last Ignite Retreat. “Having an environment where people can collaborate without judging or comparing each other—that’s one of the important keys,” he said. “You can take other people’s ideas as encouragement and inspiration rather than making [negative] comparisons and feeling bad because maybe you’re not as far along as some others. Everyone’s journey is different.”

What’s the best thing a newcomer will get out of the Ignite Retreat? “Looking at yourself and saying, ‘I can make a difference,’” Gourley said. “From the Ignite Retreats, I’ve learned that the Sullivan Foundation is an organization that’s making a difference in our youth, encouraging people to pursue their passions in a way that’s going to contribute to a greater society. That’s something I’m totally for.”

Meet the Ignite Retreat facilitators: Reagan Pugh builds connections through storytelling




Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: Jarren Small Teaches ELA Skills Through Hip-Hop

From pioneers like Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash in the 1970s to 21st century superstars like Drake and Kendrick Lamar, hip-hop and rap are as much about storytelling and inventive use of language as they are about music. No one understands that better than Jarren Small, the driving force behind an innovative educational curriculum called Reading With a Rapper (RWAR) and the keynote speaker at the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat.

The next Ignite Retreat takes place March 27-29 in Wake Forest, N.C. The weekend-long changemaking event features workshops, speakers and activities for college students with a strong interest in creating positive social impact and solving problems through social entrepreneurship. Click here to register or learn more about the Ignite Retreat.

Related: Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: Reagan Pugh builds connections through storytelling

Using relatable, innovative tools and metrics, the eight-week RWAR program is an interactive learning experience that teaches English Language Arts (ELA) skills in a way that’s guaranteed to make today’s young people sit up and listen. RWAR helps students in grades 4-12 to hone their reading and writing skills through a series of activities and exercises built around rap songs with socially conscious lyrics, video content and technology. Students learn how to relate real-world concepts expressed in rap music to literature and writing.

Added bonus: The kids also get to meet and learn from up-and-coming hip-hop artists and even established hitmakers like Meek Mill.

photo of Jarren Small, founder of Reading With a Rapper

Jarren Small works closely with educators to tailor the Reading With a Rapper curriculum to fulfill TEKS standards set by the state of Texas.

The hip-hop movement evolved from humble beginnings at society’s margins, but today it’s one of the dominant musical styles—probably the most popular in the U.S. Because of its specialized artistry and social relevance, it can also be a teaching tool to help young people thrive at the secondary and collegiate level, Small believes.

“Hip-hop uses so many principles within the ELA space that it’s almost identical to properly expressing yourself creatively from your own perspective,” Small says. “The majority of the time, as consumers, we’re listening to audio books from authors when we listen to hip-hop projects. Writing an essay is no different.”

Small spearheaded Reading With a Rapper as an offshoot of a Houston nonprofit he co-founded with his friend, Douglas Johnson. Legends Do Live works with disadvantaged youth and communities, providing workshops, tutoring sessions and entertaining social experiences. Small left his own corporate job in 2018 to focus fulltime on Legends Do Live. It was a challenging period of his life, he says.

Related: Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: Love Girls Magazine Jasmine Babers shines spotlight on “everyday girls”

“At that time, I started to go through my savings and ran my credit cards up and found myself at my lowest point going into the summer of being an entrepreneur,” he recalls. “I started working at a summer camp at my alma mater, Prairie View A&M University, where I would watch YouTube during my downtime.”

On YouTube, he came across an interview with Migos, a hip-hop group from Lawrenceville, Georgia, comprised of rappers who call themselves Takeoff, Offset and Quavo. “[The host] made them read a Dr. Seuss book in their rapping repertoire, and that’s where I had my light-bulb moment!” Small says. “I thought about how music can be such a positive tool to retain information, then started looking at how most artists use figurative language and tell unique stories all the time, similar to Dr. Seuss.”

“Finding a solution that could teach students how to read and write quicker and creating a better environment inside the classroom during school would be the ultimate win in my eyes,” he said.

Small and his Legends Do Live colleagues called that solution Reading With a Rapper. Noting that most rappers make creative use of metaphors, similes and personification in their songs, he realized he could employ music to teach these ELA concepts to young people.

this is a photo of a Reading With a Rapper class in action

Through eight-week programs and pop-ups, Reading With a Rapper uses rap lyrics to teach language and writing skills to school kids grades 4-12.

The RWAR program’s first week focuses on introducing the concept and working with teachers to identify ELA issues to be addressed. Small’s team then determines the kind of music and content that would best work for the class. The lessons focus on fulfilling the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards for what students should know and be able to do.

Using noise-canceling headphones and Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablets, students listen to relevant hip-hop music, watch videos and learn to dissect the content of the lyrics and to express their own thoughts creatively. RWAR also uses different types of lighting in the classroom to create the appropriate mood. The curriculum encourages classroom discussions on social justice, a central theme to many hip-hop artists’ work.

“We’ll talk about gun control, low self-esteem, certain things that kids are always dealing with but may not have a comfortable vehicle to talk about it,” Small has said in a Beyond Borders article on

At the end of the eight-week program, students compile and present an “album story”—their stories in essay form—in front of the class and are then surprised by a visit from the rapper whose lyrics they have been studying.

Related: Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: How Josh Nadzam outran poverty and now uses art to change kids’ lives

“Creating a safe space [for students] to express themselves is super-important to us at our organization,” Small said. “With the recent violence that has happened in our school systems in America, bringing back an environment that welcomes the students and lets them express what’s going on outside of school in school is vital.”

The curriculum also introduces students to technology they might otherwise not have access to. “Students and their parents want [the youths] to be involved with STEM projects or coding, but if their reading is not at a place where it should be, that would be a pipe dream,” Small points out. “Music production or writing within the entertainment space are some of the many points we want to bring to the table as well.”

Small’s organization also produces RWAR Unplugged, a live, educational and interactive hip-hop concert for adults with corporate sponsors like Jack Daniel’s and Microsoft. “We believe we can influence and create a reinvented nostalgia of the past where artists’ words, feelings, emotions and comments can be heard in a welcoming and intimate setting, accompanied by the RWAR style that they may have heard of and will be sure to feed the soul of any intellectual music lover,” Small says. “Proceeds collected will allow us to provide our curriculum for underserved schools free of charge.”

this photo shows rapper Meek Mill at a Reading With a Rapper event

Hip-hop superstar Meek Mill appeared at a Reading With a Rapper event to talk about his organization, the REFORM Alliance.

RWAR has even held a series of celebrated pop-ups and events at middle and high schools in Houston. Each pop-up features a rapper and incorporates their music into the program. A pop-up in early 2019 featured popular hip-hop artist and social justice advocate Meek Mill, who talked about his organization, the REFORM Alliance, which focuses on reducing the number of people unjustly trapped in the criminal justice system.

Small isn’t a newcomer to the Ignite Retreat, a twice-yearly changemaking event aimed at college students from across the country. He has served as a workshop speaker at past retreats, even before he started running Legends Do Live fulltime. “Coming back to be the keynote speaker only shows how important these types of retreats are,” he said. “I’m a product of the Ignite Retreats, and I want to be able to show the students present that anything is possible when you take the right information in and put the work in.”

“I’m hoping the attendees will learn that thinking out of the box can really work once you surround yourself with the right group of people,” Small added. “Make your business or your purpose bigger than you. Improving people with your ideas or gifts are the true reason we have them.”


Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: Love Girls Magazine Founder Jasmine Babers Shines Spotlight on “Everyday Girls”

It’s not easy to launch a magazine from scratch, and it’s certainly not cheap. Even most seasoned professional journalists would shy away from the challenge without backing from an investor with deep pockets and plenty of patience. But Jasmine Babers did it anyway and made it work—and she was just 15 at the time.

Babers, a facilitator at the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Ignite Retreat for college students, started Love Girls magazine when she was still attending Rock Island High School in Rock Island, Ill. Available in both print and digital formats, Love Girls is a nonprofit publication with a mission to “build self-esteem by providing young women leadership opportunities and a safe place to tell their stories.”

Related: Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: Jarren Small teaches ELA skills through hip-hop

Babers, who graduated from the University of Chicago at Illinois in December 2018, will lead a workshop and inspire fellow changemakers at the Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat, taking place March 27-29, in Wake Forest, N.C.  Held twice a year, the Ignite Retreat brings together a team of facilitators, coaches and conspirators who lead college students on a journey to discover how they can change the world in a positive way, whether through social entrepreneurship, the nonprofit sector or public policy leadership, among many possibilities. The deadline to register for the Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat is Wednesday, March 11. Click here to learn more about the Ignite Retreat and to register.

Love Girls magazine tells the stories of “everyday girls,” shining a spotlight on social issues—from depression to bullying—as well as covering makeup and fashion, relationships, celebrity news and other topics that appeal to young women. The magazine’s staff consists entirely of girls and young women, usually between the ages of 13 and 22, and provides hands-on experience in journalism, photography, graphic design, marketing and business management.

Related: Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: How Josh Nadzam outran poverty and now uses art to change kids lives

this is a cover designed by Jasmine Babers for Love Girls magazine

At just 15 years old, Jasmine Babers founded Love Girls magazine in response to rampant cyberbullying at her high school.

“The magazine was born from the desire to create space for girls to talk openly about problems, passions and successes,” Babers recalled. “It was important that this space was created by girls for girls. Cyber-bullying in my high school had reached an all-time high, and girls needed support and a platform to stand up against injustices and uplift one another.”

Determined to make a difference, Babers recruited other female students to help create a magazine that would serve as that platform. “I gathered some girls from school at our local public library and told them my thoughts, and everyone was excited to write and interview and take photos!” she said. “It honestly was a community project from the moment it began, and that’s also a huge reason why it’s been so successful. I could have never dreamt of all this on my own!”

Starting out with a digital-only publication would have been more affordable, but Babers realized there’s still something special about print, even in the age of iPhones and tablets. “We found out quickly that girls love being able to hold their work in their hands and to show family and friends,” she said. “It’s what makes the project so special!”

Related: Meet the Ignite Retreat Facilitators: Reagan Pugh builds connections through storytelling

“So from the beginning we had to fundraise,” Babers continued. “I was really adamant that the magazine needed to look and feel high-quality—from color down to the paper. We sold ads to local businesses at super-discounted rates, and we got grants from amazing non-profits who trusted us. It’s actually kinda remarkable, looking back at how much trust and faith people had in our project from the beginning. I’m so grateful for those supporters!”

Babers also knew from the start that she wanted to spotlight all types of girls, not just homecoming queens and cheerleaders. “One of my favorite things that we pride ourselves on is that anyone can be a cover girl,” she said. “Representation is so necessary and, in that same regard, the understanding that if you’re being the best person you can be and working really, really hard, people will see that and want to celebrate that—regardless of how you look.”

Like any editor or publisher, Babers makes sure to treat her cover subjects like stars. “Shooting the cover is a production and a really special experience for our cover girls,” she said. “We use top-of-the-line photographers, make-up artists and stylists—almost always women—and conduct our shoots like any other editorial magazine. I’m all about the glam and the experience and taking extra care of our cover girls because they deserve it.”

One of Babers’ favorite cover subjects was Carlie Newton, who received a liver transplant at just three months old and still bears a prominent scar from the surgery. Newton works to raise awareness of the lifesaving potential of organ and tissue donation.

this photo shows a classic cover of Love Girls magazine, published by Jasmine Babers

Love Girls magazine founder Jasmine Babers believes in representing all types of girls and women on the publication’s covers.

“Not only does she have an amazing story, but the clouds that day were crazy beautiful in the background and she was showing her scar to the camera,” Babers said. “But she looked so badass that, when I saw the photo for the first time, I knew the heading had to say something about her being a ‘wonder woman’!”

Love Girls also sponsors the annual Love Awards, honoring the contributions of girls and young women in eight categories, and Babers co-hosts Love Girls: the Podcast with the publication’s VP, Mikhayla Hughes-Shaw. Babers considers storytelling and graphic design to be her “superpowers” and also has a passion for politics and urban planning. “Finding a hybrid dream job around those things would be amazing,” she says.

Related: Empowerment Plan employs homeless to make coats for the homeless

Jasmine Babers will be making her second appearance at the Ignite Retreat in March 2020.  “The Ignite Retreat is one of my favorite events of the year!” she said. “It’s so unique in its design around young people who want to make a difference. I always leave inspired, curious and ready to help. I actually remember keynoting at the retreat a few years ago, and that was truly the first time I told my story in its entirety. I talked about the magazine but also growing up in foster care and struggling through my high-functioning anxiety. Afterwards, so many participants came up to me, and we laughed and cried, and they even swag-surfed around me. It was just one of the best experiences of my career so far. I’m getting emotional just thinking about it!”

“This is actually my first time leading a track,” Babers added, “and I’m so excited to be a thought-partner and see how I can help projects develop! I’m going into this experience putting the young people first and being open to listening and learning. I’m super-grounded in the understanding that I have just as much to learn as the participants do. Plus, I recently graduated college so the young people joining us are my peers, so I’m also excited to make some new friends!”