Tianisha Payne was a budding investment banker before she decided that she couldn’t maintain both her lucrative career and her passion at the same time. So, her passion took the lead.
The potential $75,000 in salary and base commissions at her previous job couldn’t surpass her priceless efforts in making a difference among Black youth. Now, the 32-year-old is devoting her energy to building up a group of young Black women living in a city with one of the highest poverty rates in the nation.
Payne is the founding director and CEO of Girls Emerging into Maturity, (GEMZ) a nonprofit based in Dayton, Ohio, that strives to “improve Ohio’s future by inspiring the youth, empowering families and the communities by providing them with tools and resources to succeed,” as per the website.
The group initially began in 2017 while Payne simultaneously worked her full-time job. She quit her high-paying position in 2021, but not without some reservations. She was anxious about not having a steady income as she laid down the roots of her organization. But the psychology graduate from Ohio State University became more and more driven as her group continued to grow.
The story behind Payne’s decision is rooted in tragedy. According to the Dayton Daily News, she was especially driven to establish her nonprofit after experiencing at least three losses in her family due to violence in the city.
“It’s necessary. We are losing our girls, our youth, absolutely losing them in the streets,” she told the outlet. “We’re losing them mentally. We’re losing them spiritually. They’re losing the innocence of being a child, when at the age of 10, they are already asking about sex and trying to identify with their sexuality. Why? You’re a teen. There’s experiences to be had as a kid and they’re not getting it.”
The nonprofit is currently comprised of 25 girls between the ages of 10 and 18. Through mentorship and guidance, Payne meets with the girls to discuss topics such as sexuality, mindfulness, understanding finances, career success, personal hygiene, and more. The program has flourished in its 97% retention rate, as per the Grio. The program requires all girls must attend 75% of all sessions and maintain a 2.6 GPA.
“This environment is their safe space where they can tell me how they’re feeling, and they can cry, or they can yell, or they can be up dancing because some girls have a lot of energy,” Payne told the Dayton Daily News.
Additionally, this determined leader is also the co-owner of Gems Group Home Inc, a transitional group home to house adolescents 11 to 19 and help them achieve their next steps.