Building community is a powerful way to support mental health. That’s why the Hogg Foundation’s mission is to transform how communities promote mental health in everyday life. It’s also why we support organizations that take an active role in identifying and improving the conditions in their community that affect mental health. 
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In Episode 151 of Into the Fold, we’re joined by Chaka Mahone, founder and director of Diversity Awareness and Wellness in Action (DAWA). DAWA is an Austin-based organization that honors, celebrates, and empowers “community frontliners” and creatives of color through direct financial support as well as culturally relevant mental health programming. 

Community Frontliners 

DAWA keep living, don't die.“It’s been a journey,” says Chaka Mahone, of the founding and growth of Diversity Awareness and Wellness in Action (DAWA). 

Today, DAWA is an established nonprofit, employs five part-time employees, and runs three community programs. And in the last four years, it has distributed $263,000 in direct financial assistance to members of the community. However, the organization emerged from humble beginnings. 

In 2018, having come to a place of financial and professional stability in his musical career, Chaka began to “give back” to his community. Each month, he set aside $200 to give to a “community frontliner” or creative of color facing a financial crisis.    

“Community frontliners are the people who are going to do the work regardless,” says Chaka. “They’re people like social workers, teachers, service workers, healthcare workers, community helpers, and creatives whose art nurtures our spirit. But too often they’re undervalued even though they’re essential to the wellness of our community.” 

The Wellness Equation 

Understanding that financial security plays an essential role in supporting wellness, Chaka soon began to envision making a greater impact. 

“Challenges to our mental health and well-being, like isolation, alienation, and substance abuse are often related to lack of resources,” says Chaka. “So, we can’t take money out of the ‘wellness equation.’ It doesn’t solve everything, but it definitely makes a difference.” 

He officially began fundraising for DAWA at his birthday party in 2019. 

“DAWA means ‘medicine’ in Swahili,” says Chaka. “So, we decided we were going to be about medicine. DAWA was going to give medicine to these people who are healers in our community.” 

The organization made its first large-scale distribution of funds in June of 2020. And in 2022, although it wasn’t part of Chaka’s original plan, he organized DAWA as a formal nonprofit. 

 Elevating and Empowering 

“There’s a burden that comes with becoming a nonprofit – making payroll, paying rent, and so on. But to make the impact we want to make, we needed to take that step,” Chaka says. 

As they’ve grown, DAWA has set up three more assistance programs. 

DAWA Studios is a community arts project that enables BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) podcasters, creatives, and grassroots organizations to produce high-quality media content at no cost. Free access to resources like studio space, lighting, cameras, and recording equipment removes one of the greatest barriers that creatives face in establishing an online presence and spreading their message. 

The Black Live Music Fund creates space for Black musicians and Black music to thrive in Austin by supplying micro-grants to Black musicians and music industry workers. A long-term goal for the fund is to establish a Black-owned music venue in Austin. Finally, Vision 8291 works in collaboration with South by Southwest and other partners to elevate and empower grassroots organizations in Austin that are led by people of color. 

Commitment to Community 

Chaka emphasizes that truly “seeing” BIPOC creatives and community frontliners is key to what they do. 

“If you live in true community, people witness you – the good and the bad,” says Chaka. “When you’re down, when you need something, your community knows who you are, and they know how to speak to who you are.” 

And because frontliners and creatives are essential to their community’s well-being, supporting them is a powerful way to support the entire community.  

“It’s community that built DAWA. And it is relationships with people that allows DAWA to continue to exist,” says Chaka. “We want to fully recognize the power that we have within ourselves to shape our reality. Community to us is first and foremost.” 

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