Jeannine Cook came to Philly 12 years ago and quickly settled in Grays Ferry. Hailing from Hampton, Va., the then-University of the Arts student was looking for the sense of community she had back home.
“I had a feeling looking at all of this community there was a lot of crossover,” the now-resident of 20th and Wharton streets said. “I do a lot of work with the crossover, and that’s what pulls people together.”
Cook, 28, was ready to evolve her college club that focused on bridging these gaps, so she transformed Positive Minds into a free-standing nonprofit run by herself and her two sisters, Jasmaine Cook, 32, and Jenielle Cook, 26.
“Jeannine pulled me here. When I graduated high school, most of that year I was a dancer of African dance, I traveled to Gambia, West Africa,” Jenielle, who continued her art form and began teaching in New York City, said. “I started getting more involved in the media aspect and video, doing projects being centered on this. Jeannine already had Positive Minds going. I joined and started incorporating [my work] in the lessons I was doing with my students.”
The last addition was Jasmaine, who had been living in New York City and was not keen on moving to Philly, but she and her sisters/co-directors, who all now reside in Point Breeze, brought their strengths to the table to encourage authentic dialogue and increase community building.
“I focus on social and emotional work, being able to create true and authentic connections with people,” Jasmaine, who is currently on tour with Madonna as a hairstylist, said. “A lot of the sisters deal with media aspects, and I teach how to be for the message to translate to media.”
The organization’s operational structure is interested in “blitzes,” where the sisters have spontaneous projects to beautify an area or encourage community dialogue. Two of these events recently occurred at 19th and Wharton streets and 16th and Federal streets, though they have taught their curriculum nationally and internationally.
“I looked down the street and a flood of kids was coming at our house for the finale,” Jenielle, who works for the nonprofit EducationWorks, said of the last day of a project at 28th and Tasker streets entitled “Community: Where Everyone Knows Your Name.” “It was twice the amount of students we’d had consistently … I thought, ‘We have something.’ We’re just one house on the block bringing all those kids to us. It was very amazing.”
While the group tends to engage younger students, they cater to pupils of all ages and feel the life lessons are invaluable for all groups.
“I really have an attachment to the demographic of 24 to 40, each one of us has a specialty group we are attached to,” Jasmaine said. “I feel like there can be more healthy ways of expressing ourselves and connecting instead of using drugs and alcohol to inhibit so we can connect.”
Jeannine, a media communications major with a minor in arts education, was primed for her eventual entrepreneurial venture, though it may not have been in her plans.
“It’s been interesting,” Jeannine, who now devotes herself full-time to the organization said. “I’ve been learning on the go. I just saw a need and I felt like we could build something, we could make a difference. Bridging a small gap, that’s what we’re doing.”
Equipping students with cameras and the know-how of communications, Positive Minds arms people with the tools needed to make a change. The sisters feel their diverse backgrounds add to the richness of the teachings offered at Positive Minds, and they are looking to continue to grow the concept, keeping it as fluid as the changing dynamics of the neighborhoods they serve.
“My sisters are two very strong individuals, and so it is challenging at times. We have different visions and how we see things happening, but we are also able to overcome these,” Jenielle said. “We just bring our visions together and hone in so we can create great projects. We have the same mission, and we’re bringing it all together.”
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/ Jasmaine, Jeannine & Jenielle Cook / Erin Dougherty /