Akayla Brown entered college with an impressive community service resume.
She has years of experience, having formed her West Philadelphia-based nonprofit Dimplez 4 Dayz (D4D) at age 13, capitalizing on her growing social media presence to boost her community with a backpack giveaway.
Now, D4D has a resource center on Haverford Avenue in the Mantua neighborhood, and 50 young people in its popular workforce development program.
“I like to see the youth giving back to the community,” Brown, 19, told Metro. “I like to see the youth work, and I like to show the youth that you can come together.”
She always had a passion for service and, while in 7th grade at the Laboratory Charter School, she gained an impressive following on Dubsmash, a video app similar to TikTok that was later acquired by Reddit.
Brown, whose nickname, “Dimplez,” comes from her smile, continues to be a force on Instagram, where she has more than 37,000 followers
“I explained to her that you cannot have a platform that big and not provide a service back to the community,” her mother, Angela Richardson, said. “So at an early age, I talked to her about social media etiquette and how to properly handle herself.”
Richardson serves as D4D’s executive director, overseeing a five-person staff and all day-to-day activities while Brown completes her freshman year at Howard University, a historically Black college in Washington, D.C.
“My mom fully believes in me,” Brown explained. “She’s always encouraging me.”
Every weekday after school, students stop at D4D’s resource center to do homework, and the space hosts teen socials every Friday. There is also a mentoring program for girls and a program to stay in touch with out-of-town college students.
Perhaps the organization’s best-known program is its workforce development initiative, where participants between the ages of 12 and 18 attend sessions on resume building, financial planning, communication and other topics.
Fifty young people are enrolled in the program, and an additional 120 are registered on a waitlist, Richardson said.
Brown finds ways to stay connected. Earlier this month, during spring break, she brought several Howard students up to hand out breakfast sandwiches to kids waiting for the school bus. They also talked about their experience at the prestigious university.
Last spring, Brown was one of 300 students nationwide who received a full scholarship from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a highly sought-after and selective award.
Going to Howard has been an adjustment, she admits. As a business major, she is required to wear a suit to class.
“But overall, I love Howard because I feel like they’re pushing us,” said Brown, who graduated from Bodine High School for International Affairs. “They’re showing us all the things that we could be.”
In the years ahead, she wants to open more resource centers in neighborhoods around Philadelphia and increase the number of Bus Stop Breakfast events.
“I definitely don’t want anybody to think this is where it’s stopping,” she said.
Her mom arguably has bigger plans. Richardson would like to see the nonprofit expand into the Washington D.C. area, where Brown spends most of her time these days.
“To see my children live out their dreams and turn them into realities is just something amazing,” Richardson said. “I left my corporate job to make sure I’m running Dimplez 4 Dayz full-time, and I wouldn’t second-guess it ever.”