Tragil Wade is the founder and CEO of America’s Big Sisters Foundation
Tragil Wade is the founder and CEO of America’s Big Sisters Foundation, a foundation that seeks to empower, encourage, and educate young women to become independent, self-sufficient and goal-oriented.
Tragil has dedicated so much to giving back, from her early role in her family, then heading the Wade World’s Foundation (founded by her brother Dwyane Wade in 2003) to founding the unparalleled America’s Big Sisters Foundation.
America’s Big Sisters Foundation started in 2017 after a devastating tragedy in Tragil’s family: her cousin was shot and killed in a crossfire outside of her children’s school. As Tragil shares, the foundation helps keep the memory of her cousin alive, providing support for youth across the country to live above difficult circumstances.
I had the immense honor of speaking with Tragil, we talked about her experience leading her brother’s foundation, growing up in a family whose M.O. has always been giving back, and how America’s Big Sisters came about. Her kindness, openness, and generosity are so incredibly inspiring, I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed doing it.
I know this might be a worn-out question, but what inspired you to start America’s Big Sisters?
I would have this discussion all day, every day, it definitely helps me keep my cousin’s name alive. In 2016, I had a little cousin that was shot and killed in the South Side of Chicago as she was going to complete her kids’ school paperwork, right outside of their school. So when registering her kids she got shot and killed in a crossfire. She left behind 4 kids, one was a teenage girl, a very young girl— and I knew life would absolutely be changing forever for this young girl. It would change for her, because I was able to know what that would feel like— when I was a teenage girl I had to be the big sister to my brother because of the absence of my mom (however, when I speak of her absence it was her being incarcerated, her being on drugs, which is also a way of being absent). So I found myself in that space of being able to just truly understand that her life was never going to be the same.
Tragil Wade during one of the America's Big Sisters events.
What were some of the first steps you took to make your vision for America’s Big Sisters a reality?
I started off by hosting a summit every year. I would do these summits to really impact teenage girls, bringing all the resources that I know to the room, whether it was friends, motivational people, resources from after school care opportunities. We would have an incredible time building sisterhood and encouraging each other, it was such a big deal for me. So America’s Big Sisters began to evolve into me starting a mentoring program to the motherless teen daughters, and we actually built it further into this mentoring space, and it has absolutely been amazing. Being impactful for these teen girls is pretty much what keeps me going everyday...
What were some of the first obstacles you had to overcome as a founder?
I ran a nonprofit for my brother, Wade Foundation, for over a decade. When you have a celebrity involved, what you find is that you have more people that have interest because they want to see the celebrity or things like that... What I did, what I found was very difficult when starting America’s Big Sisters, was that I was not the celebrity, that my celebrity wouldn’t be there... it was just me, and trying to get others to support it was very tough. Part of it was also tough because I was having conversations with people that had never heard of programs like these before, they heard of fatherless opportunities but they never heard, it never really dawned on people to support the motherless girls.
The amazing pillars of the America's Big Sisters Foundation.
Sometimes looking back it’s easy to find a through-line, when and how do you think you found your mission?
I’ve been working in this space since I was in my early 20s, when I had a girls group. I helped this group, and would pick them up and take them out with me every week... So I’ve been doing this forever... When I think about what inspired me it makes me think about my granny, her name is Willa Mae. She would give back everywhere. With the little that she had she would give back, and I think it was just in us to do that. She would be the woman at the Church passing out food all the time, no matter what she had she would always look out for the people in the neighborhood. Some people in our neighborhood called her mom —who weren’t her real kids. We kind of got that from her. And even from our mom, even in the sickness and the drug addiction she found herself in, she would always be prepared to give. It was kind of our thing, whatever we had we gave back, we were all family. That’s all we know. People know our family and know that we are always doing something. Our mom is a pastor today, thank god she’s clean for 16 years, my father is doing things and giving back, as a family it’s just what we do, I don’t think there’s any second guessing to it, it just comes naturally to us, something programmed
Tragil on The Jam TV Show talking about the America's Big Sisters Foundation.
What is something you wish you would’ve known about social entrepreneurship before starting?
I wish I would’ve known that social entrepreneurship is really hard work. When I started with my brother it wasn’t as hard, when you talk about celebrity philanthropy vs. average person philanthropy, it’s definitely a different ball game. With him, when I was running his foundations we were able to get funding because we were written into his contracts.