Andre Chapman is the founder and CEO Emeritus of Unity Care Group, Inc., a non-profit organization established to address the disparity in resources and education for underserved foster youth. He is the former National Director of Sales for a Silicon Valley Tech Firm and holds a Master’s in Organizational Management. An esteemed Fellow of the American Leadership Forum, Mr. Chapman is known for his youth advocacy in addressing systemic barriers and inequalities that harm communities of color.
Did your personal history inform your advocacy efforts and mission to serve foster youth?
My family migrated out of the south, seeking to leave the pervasive racism they faced in Sarasota, Florida. Their goal was to create better opportunities and avoid the same childhood trauma’s they experienced while growing up in the south… We moved to Palo Alto in ’68, and my parents held that this was the best decision they ever made for their 3 children but unfortunately not their marriage as they divorced during my elementary years. My father was a salesman for different companies and my mom was a schoolteacher, and giving back was really part of my DNA.
Growing up in Palo Alto, I saw the differences between the haves and have nots very clearly. The disparity between Palo Alto—the richest zip code on the globe, and the very stark difference in resources and the economic situation a mere 50 yards away, just over the freeway. By the time I’d gone to college, I was keenly aware of how zip code dictates resources, access and opportunities. When I left for college, my mom became a foster mother of a 10-year old girl. I went from being the youngest of three to essentially having a younger sister which was my first real experience with foster care.
In college, I started off majoring in criminology, the goal of becoming a Palo Alto police officer. An unsavory experience with local campus police changed my trajectory, and I decided I wanted to go into business instead. I would go on to major in business marketing, and upon graduation, I ended up on the sell-side of business and worked my way into a National Director of Sales role for a tech company.
My foster sister grew up well-loved in my mom’s care, and she would go on to attend college as well. I didn’t truly understand the state of foster care and how the system works until I was well into my career. During one of my business trips I connected with a fraternity brother who worked for a non-profit, and he introduced me to this residential group home where six boys were living, displaced from their family. Seeing these youths living in a shared home, playing ping pong, doing their homework etc. touched my heart and changed me forever.
How did you start actively addressing the condition of foster care?
Immediately after that interaction with my friend and seeing those young men in that residential setting, I called my foster sister and asked her more about her journey and researched the challenges and pitfalls of foster care. I began looking to rent a home and after unsuccessfully finding one I then made the decision to change my newly-purchased home into a residential group home for foster youths. In August of 1993, we accepted the first foster youth into our program. I saw the impact of this decision and what God was calling me to do moving forward. My career in tech was paying the bills, but my passion and my heart was drawn to creating safe spaces and opportunities for these foster youth of color.
I hired several of my fraternity brothers from Phi Beta Sigma at San Jose State as counselors, mentors and role models for the youths entering the program. I wanted these youth to see college role models that looked like them and came from similar backgrounds with lived experiences. My tech career continued to blossom as I took on more executive roles traveling across the country during the week and spending my weekends with the boys at the homes. We duplicated our business model 5 more times over the next 7 years adding more youth, staff, and homes.
I never imagined that what started as a ministry, a way of giving back, would become a full-time occupation. However, by late 1999 and early 2000 I decided to hang up my high-tech hat to dedicate all my efforts to changing the foster care system.
We’re now thirty years in, and what started as a way to serve a few youths has turned into an organization that has served thousands and thousands of foster youth and families across northern California with a special emphasis on youth of color. Unity Care has been a change agent in creating culturally proficient services that address the overrepresentation of African American youth in the foster care, juvenile justice and mental health systems.
Can you explain the importance of having that permanent address and stable housing for these young people aging out of foster care?
We’ve been doing this for decades now, and there are so many stories of young folks that have gone on to do great things. Those who have been exposed to extreme trauma, racism, poverty —like our foster youth have—are living a different life.
Housing is like water; without it you can’t survive. Housing is the foundation for stability and safety that gives these young folks an opportunity to mature and develop into young adults finding their pathway in life. Without a safe place to call home these young adults are always in constant survival mode, trauma, food insecurities, addiction, and mental illness. Just imagine for a minute at age 18 or 20 you no longer provided a home, a dorm room, or a safe place for your own children to live and expected them to go out into this world and find housing on their own. This is what happens to kids who age out of foster care, they are abandon to the streets, so when you combine homelessness and hopelessness it’s the mother of all crime every small foundational component we can put in place—those stable factors that most of us take for granted—we are giving these young folks a necessary start to live. . A home provides both physical and psychological safety so these young adults can build confidence, deal with their traumas of growing up in foster care, go to school, go to work, build healthy relationships and feel safe .
- Unity Care focuses on five pillars of success for our youth including housing, employment, wellbeing, and unconditional care. Housing takes precedence because, without that safety and security, working on anything else is practically impossible.
- Unity Care continues to grow and transition leadership to place youth in stable, safe living situations in 9 counties throughout Northern California.
- There is a disproportionate number of black and brown kids in foster care, and more of them end up homeless, incarcerated upon aging out of foster care.
- Unity care works to provide foster youth who will age out of the system with stability and resources to succeed.
- Andre Chapman recently transitioned to the Founders role after 29 years hiring a new CEO Sheila Mitchell to lead the organization. As Founder Andre is focused on creating policies & practices to eradicate homelessness for former foster youth ensuring that no youth exits foster care to the streets.