Houston is home to scores of incredible people leading and participating in organizations, businesses and movements doing heroic and inspiring work. Entrepreneur Will Harvey is one such person. He gave birth to the Mansa Musa Project, a mentoring organization offering a youth outreach program designed to identify at-risk youth between 9-18 who are going to have a turbulent transition into adulthood, and provide them with active counseling, mentoring, parent assistance, tutoring and more.
The Defender scored an exclusive interview with Harvey to learn more about the organization’s history, present activities and future goals.
DEFENDER: Mr. Harvey, will you introduce yourself to the Defender family?
WILL HARVEY: Good morning. I’m Will Harvey. I am a brother, son, a father, a young man who’s trying to do some good in the neighborhoods, in the community and bring better awareness and resources to our community today, which we do not have, especially in our inner city.
DEFENDER: What is the Mansa Musa Project?
WILL HARVEY: Well, let’s talk about the name first. Mansa Musa was this great emperor and what made him so profound is, not only that he was the richest man who ever lived to date, but he gave all his riches away. People were like, “Why would he do such a thing?” It was because he wanted to empower his people. He wanted to empower his community, and I feel the same way. My riches might not be his wealth, but it’s my resources. So, for kids in high school, middle school, especially inner city schools, they have taken away those resources for them. We used to have home economics, woodshop, cosmetology. You know, college is not for everybody. So, what are these kids going to do when they leave school, when they graduate? I want to provide those resources, those things that they’re missing, those key things to get them into the working environ and being part of leadership and be a positive part of the community. That’s what the Mansa Musa Project is; giving the resources to students in need and empowering them to be great.
DEFENDER: When was the Mansa Musa Project born?
WILL HARVEY: It was born over eight years ago and I was kind of just steam-rolling it myself. I officially put it on the books in 2018, then, here comes the pandemic. It kind of threw a lot of things off for me, but we pushed through. I have a great team of well-rounded people that makes this very successful for us, and are able to reach these kids in a way that no other can. We don’t just serve males. We do males and females and we have a dynamic that we can reach both because both of them need a male and a female role model.
DEFENDER: Was there a particular moment, event or conversation that planted the seed for this project?
WILL HARVEY: I grew up in the inner city, single parent home. I was blessed to have men that come in my life to help rear me the right way and steer me in the right direction and mentor me and give me those resources that I wasn’t privy to. So, I felt compelled to do the same, to give back. We can be successful all day long, but we can’t reach back and help our next brother or sister? What are we really doing? So, that was the inspiration for me to move forward and push this initiative. I’m a realtor and I love real estate, but my passion, it’s the kids. That gives me all the energy and the inspiration every day to keep going and keep pushing. Because at the end of the day, they’re our future.
DEFENDER: What was the most recent example of this work?
WILL HARVEY: I try to empower my team to reach out into the community to figure out what’s going on. What can we do to help the community? And unbeknownst to me, I never knew so many kids are going to school without coats and jackets. How can we expect them to focus and be the best they can be without worrying about being cold? So, we did a coat drive. We donated all these coats to a couple of middle schools, to an elementary school and Star of Hope so these kids can have these jackets. This is going to be a continual effort throughout the winter season. We still collect coats, jackets, mittens, socks. You’ll be amazed how many kids don’t even have socks. When we give them to the kids, that’s one less worry they have to deal with.
DEFENDER: What other resources does the Mansa Musa Project provide?
WILL HARVEY: We have pillars in our organization. One is counseling. Mental health is huge in the African American community, let alone for these youth. You don’t know what these kids are dealing with, what they’re going through. So, we have counselors on staff. We have mentors that work with the kids, talk with the kids, connect with them. We have tutors. We want to help these kids because when they get home, sometimes they don’t even have parents there to help them do their work. If they need us, we’re there for them. We provide tutors for all levels of education. And last but not least, we have a parent portion, making sure they’re connected with the student and the school.
DEFENDER: Is there a specific area of town or specific schools that you work?
WILL HARVEY: The main one is Booker T. Washington High School. I’m an alumni there, so that was an easy beta test for us to start with. We’ve been asked by so many other schools for us to help out, like the Landis Elementary School. But we just don’t have the bandwidth. We, we don’t have the community support, the dedication and people who are there to just really be stewards and stick with it. Everybody’s interested, but mentoring is just not a one-hour thing. It’s a lifetime event and we need dedication like that. So right now, the bandwidth is not there, but we’re doing what we can do in the community thus far.
DEFENDER: What’s next for the Mansa Musa Project?
WILL HARVEY: We have a golf tournament that’s coming up March 12 at the Southwood Golf Course in Pearland, and we’re doing a scholarship initiative for these kids who are going to college. We want to do fundraisers for them so we can get them a scholarship and also to help fund the Mansa Musa Project, as well.
DEFENDER: Is there anything else you want to share?
WILL HARVEY: We really want this to grow bigger and better, because ultimately, I want to be able to cover the whole Houston area and that we can reach out and save every child possible. We want to make sure we have a safe haven for these kids. You’ll be amazed how some of these kids are couch-surfing, in a single-parent home, raising themselves, cooking for themselves, doing everything for themselves and trying to figure it out, becoming an adult way sooner than they need to be. And we want to be there for them. We want love on them, to let them know that we support them and that we’re there for them.
DEFENDER: How can people help and support you?
WILL HARVEY: You can always go to www.TheMansaMusaProject.org. There’s a donation button. You’re welcome to donate. Or if you like to donate your time, your energy, your gifts, please do. We’ll welcome everything. We’re also on social media as well, The Mansa Musa Project on Instagram and on Facebook. We have a Facebook group there, as well.