Jael KDLV Chambers was born in Los Angeles, California and was raised with two older brothers by his mother. His experiences growing up in Los Angeles were not dissimilar to the title of one of his favorite albums by Kendrick Lamar, ‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D City.’ His childhood was characterized by single parents households, gangs, drugs, and gun violence. At a young age, Jael quickly learned how to survive—what colors to wear, what streets not to walk down, who to look at and how to interact, and what emotions were unacceptable to share. A misstep could have cost him his life, so he quickly earned his “Ph.D.” in survival on the streets.
At the age of 15, Jael, along with his mother and brothers, moved to Portland, Oregon—a predominantly Caucasian city. It was here that Jael first experienced looking at the world through a different set of cultural lenses. It was an experience that would greatly shape his understanding of race and culture.
He went to the largest and most diverse high school in the state of Oregon. It was here that he crossed paths with his teacher/varsity basketball coach—a man who was racially, socio-economically, and culturally different from him. That man became his mentor and friend and prepared him to become a cultural-broker. During high school, he fell in with a culturally diverse crowd—Tony Ho, Jesus Garcia, Ryan Moats, and John Ellis. Jael spent hours at the Garcias’ family restaurant munching on tortilla chips and carne asada tacos. The next night was fried rice, egg rolls, and pho at the Hos’ family restaurant. They discussed their cultures during long road trips and spent time with each other’s families. These friends helped him see the world through even more cultural perspectives and equipped him with the skillset to relationally engage those different from himself.
During Jael’s time in high school, two of his mentors in conjunction with a suburban university created a full-ride scholarship for 10 urban students. The scholarship aimed to develop diversity at the university by supporting urban students through their time in college. Jael was selected as one of the 10. He was the first person in his family attend college. Due to a general lack of cultural and racial awareness among the university staff and student body, Jael ran into many difficult experiences. Before leaving his dorm room each morning, he mentally prepared himself before for a college campus that was not crafted for someone from his background. Even though he had a full-ride scholarship, he came close to calling it quits and heading back to the city.
These feelings dissipated when he found himself alongside a professor developing an initiative to support the black male students on campus—Black Male Initiative. The initiative quickly became a safe space for Jael to invite his black peers to enter in and discuss what it was like to be African American on campus. They covered topics ranging from interacting with white women to the new single from J-Cole to engaging professors after class. This experience solidified his innate sense that people crave spaces where they feel valued, confirmed, challenged, and cared for.
During college, Jael also wanted to give back. He knew he could reach out to kids just like someone had reached out to him. There were no urban kids living close to the university, so he volunteered with local, suburban students through Young Life. He mentored Caucasian, upper to middle-class high school students and found that while their everyday concerns were far from the concerns of his childhood, they, too, had the underlying desire to be known, accepted, and valued.
After graduating from college, he got a job at a local college in Portland as the Retention Director. His primary emphasis became retaining college students of color, who had a higher drop-out rate than their Caucasian counterparts. His office became a safe haven for conversations on race, hip-hop, and politics—anything that urban students wanted to explore. He also created a mentoring program that connected first generation college students with local high schoolers at risk of dropping out. Not only did many of the high schoolers stay in school, the college students experienced purpose by giving back to those who grew up in similar situations as their own.
Jael soon moved to Philadelphia to pursue his M.A. in Urban Studies and to develop Young Life in the city Philadelphia. During his studies met the most beautiful, kind-hearted, and passionate women—a white woman from the suburbs with a story very different from his own. Brought together by a common faith and love of learning, the two were married a few years later. As he continued his work with Young Life, he developed diversity among his staff and volunteers. As the pursuit of multicultural teams increased, productivity and impact at the schools and within the communities increased as well. Over the course of 4 years, Philly Young Life grew from 1 program to 9 programs.
The people he met in Philly soon noticed his cultural awareness and passion for understanding another’s perspective. They began asking him for advice on how to increase diversity within their own organizations.
Jael decided it was time to bring the idea that had been ruminating within him for years to fruition, and, so, Cultured Enuf was born.
He pulled from his experience base, personal narrative, historical knowledge, and research experience to develop multiple programs to support leaders. He now works alongside leaders—helping them craft diverse environments where their teams can flourish and thrive.