We recently sat down with Stephen and Ayesha Curry for a 2020 recap focused on Eat. Learn. Play., COVID-19, and more importantly, the people and partnerships that made it possible for us to collectively serve over 12 million meals to students and families in Oakland, generating $20 million to put back into the local economy. The Currys also gave us a sneak peek on what 2021 has in store for both Eat. Learn. Play. and for them personally.
Continue reading the full interview for more insights on:
Stephen and Ayesha, take us back to the creation of Eat. Learn. Play.? Can you share the story of why you chose to start the Foundation when you did? How did you choose these issue areas with a primary focus on supporting Oakland?
The genesis of the Foundation came from our upbringing. Thankfully, our families planted a seed of community giveback and finding any possible way to participate in those efforts, no matter what the issue was. For us, we took the seed that was planted early on and leveraged our resources and networks that we have been able to build throughout the years. Ayesha says this a lot, it is not about legacy, but more importantly, making a meaningful impact in our community.
We have been grateful to call our adoptive city of Oakland home for more than 11 years now; me coming from North Carolina and Ayesha from Toronto, we know firsthand the need that is here right now in our own backyard. The past year and a half has allowed us amazing opportunities to bring a whole host of resources together to do some amazing things, and timing is everything in this world.
For us, we needed to be patient and understand exactly what we wanted to do, how we wanted to do it, and who we wanted to do it with. That was the birth of Eat. Learn. Play.
Throughout the years, Stephen and I have operated behind the scenes. We really waited patiently to see how we can make all of our interests align in a way that was organic and authentic to who we are at our core.
More importantly, it was about finding the right people because there are so many moving parts, and when things started to come together for us was when the light bulb went off. We said, ‘Oh my gosh, Chris Helfrich! Duh.’ We've known him for years, and from that point on, it really just made sense. He was able to help us figure out how to make it cohesive, clear, and impactful. By having the confidence in Chris along with the team that we've built really is what made us comfortable to bring our dream to life.
At the Foundation’s February Board meeting, Ayesha, you asked, “What is the Foundation prepared to do for Oakland’s kids if COVID becomes a big thing?” Can you take us back to that moment and illustrate how the Foundation initially responded to Covid-19?
When I start to hear inklings of topics, I really start to pay attention and do the research. At the time when there were whispers of coronavirus and COVID, people were skeptical. I was going through all the articles, and I was like, ‘No, something’s not right.’
In our initial meeting, we were going through what our set-up for the year would be. Initially, I thought things might be shut down through the summertime, if that. I asked everyone, ‘What can we do to prepare ourselves in the event things get shut down? What happens to the kids who are already at a disadvantage and don’t get enough? What happens to the students who rely on school meals through the summer?’
That was the lightbulb moment — we weren't necessarily programmed to think that way. We were trying to figure out how do we start Eat. Learn. Play. in our first year? What are we going to do to make the Foundation have an impact in a small way this year?
To think we would have to scale so quickly from that initial meeting. I'll never forget that meeting. Together with our community partners, we had to rally the troops and activate quickly. Honestly, we could not have done it without them and their agility.
A new priority we’ll be announcing in early 2021 is a sharpened focus on our “LEARN” pillar. Can you share a little bit about the issue we’re going to set out to help tackle and why?
In addition to our EAT pillar, Stephen and I, along with the entire foundation team understand how important education is to all of our children. And, with this in mind, we’re going to be focusing on literacy as the key component for the LEARN pillar. Literacy is such an important issue here in Oakland and throughout the United States. Honestly, I did not realize the disparity between Black and Latinx students and their white counterparts. For example, when looking at statistics within the Oakland Unified School District, only 18% of Black students and 24% of Latinx students in OUSD are reading at their grade level, while almost 75% of white students are meeting or exceeding standards – a gap that has only grown over the last five years.
As parents, we want to be able to utilize all of the resources we have available to ensure all of our kids continue to be successful, which is why we’re establishing additional resources for all children to be successful and proficient when it comes to reading. We want all children to meet and exceed their literacy expectations.
To know there are kids stuck in a zone where they have no way of currently getting out creates a sense of hopelessness. It’s cyclical — so often what's happening is the parents’ literacy skills aren’t up to par, and so it unwillingly becomes a generational thing that’s passed down.
Like I said before, and I will let Stephen expand on this topic, but one of our big goals for next year and beyond is focusing on literacy and lessening the gap between Black, Latinx and White students.
The biggest thing for us is to be able to be educated and understand the problems and the numbers so we can continue to make a meaningful impact in our community. We need to deal with the realities that are in our community, especially in our backyard, and determine how we can start to empower our amazing community partners to make significant changes.
They have been doing this work for a while, but hopefully Ayesha and I, along with the Foundation can help amplify their ongoing efforts. We need to be able to send and implement the proper resources and build awareness because that's the biggest thing on this issue — from what I can tell, it's kind of taken for granted in the school system. Literacy is not talked about a lot, in general, and we need to change that. Because when this issue stays silent we continue to allow discrepancies and inequalities. We need all of you to be energized around changing the conversation about literacy, and helping us identify additional partners and implementing effective and impactful strategies.
This will be a huge priority for us going into the next year.
Stephen, tell us what you think about the upcoming NBA season. Are you happy to be back? What do you think the Warriors team will be capable of this year?
We’ve had seven months off, and we’re all very excited to get back.
Healthy? Yes, for sure on my part!
Draymond and Andrew Wiggins, the young crew that we have is so excited that we’re getting back together. And, more importantly we’re going to get back to the place we know we belong — that’s Championship contenders.
It's weird because we know the seasons coming up, but we have so much to figure out in the next three to seven weeks. And, the league is still developing all the protocols around how we're actually going to play this year, so there is still a lot of uncertainty. But, there is a tremendous amount of excitement around just getting back with my guys, and competing at the highest level.
If I am being honest, we’re the Elder Statesman or the experienced guys now. Me, Klay, and Draymond, we’re the experienced guys now. I’m excited to get back out there! I know it’s going to be weird without the fans. We didn’t go to the bubble in Orlando, so this whole experience for us will be new, for sure.
Ayesha, you’ve accomplished so much this year with the release of your new cookbook, The Full Plate, launching Sweet July, and soon opening the Sweet July store in Oakland. Not to mention you’re raising and educating 3 beautiful and energetic kids during a pandemic. What are you most excited about going into 2021 with all you have going on?
Yes! We're opening the Sweet July flagship store in Oakland very soon — I cannot wait! I'm so excited because it's this hub that's going to bring everything together. We’re going to have this amazing cafe in there, and just stuff for what we're calling ‘the self and home’. The whole essence of Sweet July is what makes you happy, finding that moment, and then telling yourself it doesn't just have to be in that moment. It can be implemented into your everyday life, and so figuring out ways to make yourself feel as joyful in your most joyous of moments, every single day.
So, it's going to be a space for that. It's going to feel vibrant, light and airy. I'm so happy that it's on this block where there's three other Black-owned women businesses. There's Good Body Hair, there's Tanya Holland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen, and Sherri McMullen’s McMullen Boutique. I feel like we're all killing it.
I'm just very excited to have this in Oakland, a place for women. I think it's going to be so special, but more so at this point, I think it's clear I’m like a serial entrepreneur. I love to work, I love to get my hands dirty, and I love seeing something from ideation to fruition. There's just something I love so much about that, but more importantly, I think having a voice and a platform allows me the opportunity to continuously amplify the things I am passionate about.
Everything I do is figuring out how I can amplify the work that we're doing with Eat. Learn. Play. I am constantly thinking about how we can create new partnerships, how do we bring more people in, how do we help the community?
I think, you know, having a space in the Oakland community just makes sense, and so I'm excited to see what 2021 holds for all of us. I’m putting out all the positive vibes for everyone, and for the pandemic, and just for everything.
Lastly, what does "success" look like for Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation? What has to happen for you to be able to reflect back and say "We did it!"
I feel like, in this last year and a half, you can talk about the amount of meals we’ve been able to distribute, our goals in terms of each pillar, the amount of kids and families we want to impact and celebrate, and continuing to reinvest in the commitment we’re trying to do. But, it’s really about that feeling — you know the feeling that I am talking about.
Thinking back to July 2019 to the Eat. Learn. Play. kick-off event in Oakland, we’re trying to reinvest in that inspiration and motivation to think outside ourselves, and understand that we’re blessed and fortunate. So for me, I want to continue to grow, and I want every single person to wave our ELP flag proudly because you have the same passion, interest and commitment to changing people’s lives in a very meaningful way. And we want to do it in a way that continues to celebrate Oakland and the Bay Area.
There’s a beauty in the uncertainty to all of this. We have to continue to learn, be open, and react to what’s happening in our world, in our society, and in our communities. So being ready to activate on those things for us, and having that buy-in — being able to celebrate with people from all different backgrounds and walks of life is extremely important. I will leave you with this, I’m excited about the future–where we’ve been, but we also have a lot of work to do.
I would say success for me… I feel like we’ve seen it.
Success in the future and going forward is just maintaining that resilience and the ability to adapt. You know, we started last July and then the pandemic hit. So I think success was, like Stephen said, the beauty of seeing the community step forward and to help without having really any background or seeing what we were doing in the past.
Our foundation is still very new, so we hope all of you will continue to work with us and join forces to help amplify our efforts, especially during these very uncertain times. I would love to see that keep going, and for us to just roll with the need and continue to make a meaningful impact.
So I think success is just seeing humanity, in the best positive form, and people doing amazing things and really making an impact. That's what success is. I don't think it's metrics at all.