By Holly Marley-Henschen | Photography by Hillary Schave
Jasmine Banks is building community in Madison through education and entrepreneurship.
Banks has worked at Operation Fresh Start (OFS) for four years, a Dane County nonprofit that supports disconnected youth ages 16-24 through education, mentoring and employment train- ing. In early 2020, she piloted a program she built called Drive, which helps OFS’ clients obtain learner’s permits and driver’s licenses, and pays the fees for driver education training. The life skills program also includes invaluable and relevant presentations on topics like getting a car loan, interview skills and what to expect when being pulled over.
Amid the pandemic, Banks has shifted the Drive program online, and has graduated four cohorts totaling about 40 people since last summer. Through Drive, Banks is addressing the racial divide in the community. She guides young people in accessing resources and opportunities they might otherwise not be aware of.
Banks also coordinates the classroom portions of the Strive construction and healthcare employment training programs at OFS. Within these programs, she invites speakers from the community to educate program participants on how to be proactive in equity, mental wellness and financial planning.
“They may not use [the information from these programs] right away, but that’s OK. As long as they have the information,” Banks says.
Joe Collins, Banks’ on-site co-leader in the Strive construction program, says she helps young people “envision a bigger, broader future for themselves instead of just working at an entry-level, low-paying hourly job with no benefits.” At the same time, he says Banks offers a listening ear and the feedback program participants need to hear to achieve their goals. “She’s fabulous,” Collins says.
Banks, a third-generation Madisonian, didn’t attend college. Instead, she moved right into a community-building career path. She was a case manager at Community Action Coalition, and also worked in intake at what later became Wisconsin Works (known as W2). Her first job, at age 20 and with a 2-year-old, was at the original Madison Community Health Center, now called Access Community Health Centers.
She’s also an entrepreneur. Banks is founder and CEO of Perfect Imperfections, a natural body care product company. She began the enterprise in 2016, following her mother’s death from cancer. Banks says Perfect Imperfections is a platform to normalize Black- owned businesses in Madison in hopes of closing the racial divide in the community. In 2017, Banks was named Sabrina Madison’s 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year and given the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce’s Home Based Business Award. In 2022, she’ll have a spot at the Madison Public Market.
As a community member, Banks says her role is to make Madison a place where everyone wants to live. Part of that role is helping her young program members work toward finding their places — possibly near her own.
“I don’t want them living in a neighborhood where people don’t want to go. I want to prepare them to buy the house next door to me. We should all be doing that,” she says.