I’ve made the tough decision to leave Twitter after six incredible years, though I do so with a head and heart full of invaluable lessons I would have never learned anywhere else. I now know small ideas can create a tidal wave of momentum. I have seen that 140 characters can change the world, and that a community can spark a movement. I have learned that influence can conquer power, and that sometimes a fight is the most noble cause.
I believe deeply in fighting on behalf of our youth. I want to help ensure that children in my community grow up to be compassionate and capable. To be sure, though, this is easier said than done. In California alone, 19% of K-12 kids are responsible for taking care of themselves after school. While the population in low-income neighborhoods has grown in recent years, the public budget for after-school programs has remained stagnant since 2005. This is a loss for our children, as the the benefits of afterschool programs are vast and well documented, ranging from better grades, health outcomes, and graduation rates, and a decrease in crime.
Back in 2013, I bonded with Ben Kovacs, a former Twitter employee, over a mutual love for martial arts and a desire to make a difference by creating a community environment characterized by mentor relationships. Together we co-founded The Guardian Project, a 501(c)3 non-profit boxing, kickboxing and Jiu Jitsu academy in Oakland that offers classes free of charge to kids 10-18 by way of after-school programming. We soon thereafter met Sacha Feinman, our extraordinary Managing Director. The three of us scaled the project from an idea to a working proof of concept by building out an incredible Board of Directors and raising enough funds from the community to occupy a beautiful space.
Guardian is an academy and community like no other. While martial arts sits at the core of our mission, we also offer space for kids to do homework, free healthy meals donated from local restaurants, and networking opportunities for older students to find their first job or internship. Since opening our doors in January, 2016, we’ve enrolled over 150 kids from all over the city, creating a shared sense of purpose around a common passion. We are fortunate to have attracted a diverse group of world-class instructors and volunteers. Everyday we are seeing first hand the change that confidence and a positive environment can make.
We've recently started a national scholarship program and have bigger dreams to expand locally and nationally. It’s a special moment in time for us to ignite this movement. Guardian needs more of my energy and focus to take this to the next level and I’m eager to give it my all.
Twitter has been an incredibly fulfilling journey and I believe deeply in the company's mission. Leaving is a tough decision, but I’m excited that I’ll soon be spending my time at Guardian, fighting for our youth.
- Joel Lunenfeld
Co-Founder, The Guardian Project