A couple from San Francisco change their tone; from hip-hop to mentoring budding artists

SAN FRANCISCO — Richard “Big Rich” Bougere and Danielle Banks manage a busy family that includes a little girl, but a decade ago native San Franciscans were nurturing careers in hip-hop.

Then they noticed a terrible trend.

“We were going on tour. Every time we came home it would be bad news,” Banks said. “As we hear that a young person has been killed or someone has gone to prison… We say to ourselves, ‘We have to do something’, and it had to be in line with what they liked and what they wanted to do. A lot of them wanted to be artists.”

Bougere knew firsthand the transformative power of music. The art and business of rap music kept him from growing up.

“Music saved my life,” he said. “I was able to come to the music and it kept me on a straight and narrow path.”

Bougere and Banks founded Project Level in 2012. The non-profit organization has introduced up to 1,800 at-risk youth to music, dance, marketing, film, graphic design and fashion.

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“Danielle and I’s dream is to help others pursue their dreams,” Bougere said.

Isreal Laviene, a sophomore at Morehouse College, grew up in the Fillmore neighborhood of San Francisco. She is among those who took part in Project Level’s recent 3-city modeling tour.

“Being here in Fillmore, they’re from Fillmore as well,” Laviene said. “They grew up in Fillmore, so it’s very close. Big Rich is really like a father figure.”

Bougere and Banks pride themselves on establishing a family bond with those they mentor.

“It’s the secret formula – the family aspect of Project Level that comes from Danielle,” Bougere said.

Jasmine Corley’s confidence has skyrocketed since arriving at the draft level nine years ago as a shy teenager. And now?

“I’m a leader in my community. It’s pretty cool,” she said. “I can teach the children of this community.”

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As a staff member, she teaches social media and coaches dancers like the group that performed for Mayor London Breed’s birthday.

In the next room to the organization’s headquarters in Fulton Street, other young people are learning to design and print their own line of clothing. Afterwards, participants often return as volunteers and role models.

Like Project Level alumnus, rapper 24kGoldn, who is now a platinum recording artist.

“It’s like the ultimate feeling when a kid really succeeds in the industry,” Bougere said. “It’s nice.”

Project Level is currently launching a fall program to create a record label from scratch. The music executive incubator program is funded by a $150,000 social justice grant from the Warner Music Group and the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

Project Level is currently launching a fall program to create a record label from scratch. The music executive incubator program is funded by a $150,000 social justice grant from the Warner Music Group and the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

In just a few days, they received 150 applications for 40 positions. For more information, visit projectlevel.org

For helping underserved youth cultivate job skills through Project Level, this week’s Bay Area Jefferson Prize goes to Richard “Big Rich” Bougere and Danielle Banks.

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