Little Black Pearl Green Glassblowing Studio: Driving socioeconomic change, education and transmuting gun violence on Chicago's Southside.

Collaboration with Ashoka Fellow Christian Thornton to create vital green energy solutions to fuel our innovative school glassblowing studio

Photo of Tracy Kirchmann
2 10

Written by


  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Woman

Where are you making a difference?

We are making a difference primarily in Chicago, in the most marginalized communities. Our model is both scaleable and replicable. Our impact is recognized by organizations like Then Mac Aurther Foundation, The Glass Art Society, Air Jordan, and Mini Cooper to name a few. Chicago IL 60653

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Children & Youth
  • Civic Engagement
  • Development & Prosperity
  • Environment & Sustainability
  • Health & Fitness
  • Human Rights & Equality
  • Peace & Harmonious Relations

Date Started

Little Black Pearl's Glass studio was established in 2010 but the organization is 24 years old.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)


  • $1m - $5m

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

Facebook URL


1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

Little Black Pearl’s Founder and Executive Director, Monica Haslip, is where our glass story begins. Monica’s passion for art & her desire to highlight the importance of African-Americans in every aspect of life, especially art was her driving force to start Little Black Pearl. The organization, founded in 1994, is an innovative Arts and Culture Institution designed to create positive opportunities for marginalized youth through the arts. Monica immediately saw glass blowing as an exciting opportunity for black youth, especially because of the lack of diversity in the field of glass art. Current research has told us that glass started in sub-saharan Africa, the lack of exposure in black communities is due to energy cost.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

We are primarily using glass blowing as a discipline, art and agent of social change with tremendous positive impact. We teach entrepreneurship, communication, and soft skills related to employment through glass. We also create opportunities to drive social and community change through our programs. We are using glass to expand our reach and give our kids a voice. We believe that all of our answers come from within us and in collaboration.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

We are combating the rampant gun violence and socioeconomic problems in Chicago through intensive mentoring and the transformative power of glass blowing. Glass is magic. Through this material and process we are able to take Chicago's most vulnerable and disenfranchised teenagers, and give them opportunity. We are re-enchanting our youth with life, education , hope in humanity and themselves through glass art. Our main obstacle is the tremendous cost of fossil fuels as related to this process. Our solution is to work with Ashoka Fellow Christian Thornton to use post consumer waste glass in our studio as well as working with him to reduce our expansive energy needs. We want to consult with him regarding the implementation of alternative energy measures in the studio that will also demonstrate an entire new avenue of future green business and development for our students. As the glass instructor, I am deeply engaged in STEAM learning opportunities. We teach science through glass. We teach art through glass. We teach engineering through glass. This would provide us an opportunity to engage our black youth and community in education related to alternative energy as well.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

Gun violence is symptomatic of both a critical loss of hope and a lack of opportunity.. We have taken entrenched gang members, as well as kids impacted by gangs and violence in their community and enabled them to change. We have emboldened them with a ferocity of spirit through learning and dedication. They become entrenched in the community we have here at Little Black Pearl. We become family though our efforts, especially in the glass studio. We provide hope and an alternative to death or incarceration for our kids. For the Little Black Pearl Glass Studio, the savings start with the elimination of using specialty manufactured glass nuggets and instead melting recycled cullet. Melting cullet reduces the total energy cost for the furnace in both gas, as well as saving about $6000.00- $12000.00 in raw material glass annually as well as reducing the total energy usage by at least %

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

Our mission at Little Black Pearl is TO CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOUTH AND ADULTS TO DEEPEN THEIR CREATIVE INVOLVEMENT THROUGH THE ARTS, CULTIVATE THEIR ENTREPRENEURIAL SKILLS AND USE THE ARTS AS A MEANS FOR ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT AND COMMUNITY TRANSFORMATION. We are serving the lowest income students in the country, working in a community that desperately needs economic opportunity and the example of fiscal sustainability we represent. Our school empowers the highest need students to thrive.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • ability
  • geography
  • work status
  • language
  • race/ethnicity
  • sexual orientation
  • gender
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

No one is doing this in the same way we are. Perhaps in New Jersey is one of our closest allies and in alignment with our mutual dedication to the arts, education, and job creation. We want to create jobs with these energy innovations, for our students. Kids learn though doing and by example. We provide experiences with elite businesses and executives to demonstrate who business acumen is important. We show our students why communication in business is vital, and how we can accomplish more together as a team than independently. More than anything they need investment.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Little Black Pearl’s (LBP) signature after school program offers innovative visual and music arts education that provides a solid foundation in the “Business of Art” for youth ages 13-19. This program allows students to explore the connection between art and business through a creative learning environment in our Music, Glassblowing, and Multi-media studios. Our school program’s goal is to broaden experiences through collaborations with community partners and cultural institutions. We have 4 graduates a year who have benefited from a full ride unlimited choice scholarship from the Air Jordan Brand, providing 12 students a full paid college education. We have one of the highest graduation rates in the Chicago Public School System as a charter school. We have the largest academic gains for a charter school in CPS as well as the most developed, funded and operated art program.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

We are currently the leading example of success in the glass community in non profits that serve marginalized communities. As the glass teacher, I am also pursuing a PhD in Commnunity Psychology so that we can capture and quantify our arts educational program success and share it. We present annually at conferences, host other schools and community leaders in our school, provide field trips to title one schools and collaborate extensively. Currently I am working with the Robert Minkof Foundation to share the social justice and art curriculum I developed for the Unbreakable Glass Squad.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Franchising, Licensing, Accreditation
  • Large Scale Partnerships
  • Organizing Conferences
  • Trainings, Consultation
  • Open Sourcing
  • Campaigns
  • Lobbying, Policy Change

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

This entire solution creates and ensures the financial stability of our largest asset. We create and sell handmade art glass. It is almost impossible to compete with our NFP operational overhead, which is 60% energy cost. Bringing this cost down would enable us to further expand our programs and collaborations. The glass studio in itself costs approximately $100k to operate 50% of that budget represents material and energy costs. We will turn our energy problem into a solution/example.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

We have an extensive staff and a working board. This project would have the full support of our organizaton and all of its parts. Monica Haslip and I would lead our effort with glass energy innovator, & Ashoka Fellow Christian Thornton. Once we secure funding for the recycled glass program, we wil expand our energy conservation/innovation with Christian. Methane gas production with an anerobic digester to make our own gas fuel from food scraps we collect in the community while greening Chicago

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French)
  • Middle Eastern or North African (for example: Lebanese, Iranian, Egyptian, Syrian, Moroccan, Algerian)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)

  • No, I do not identify with an underrepresented community

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Ashoka page or contact
View more

Attachments (3)

Little Black Pearl MEDIA LINKS.docx

I was unable to add media links to this page so please see the following two web videos to deomonstrate the magic of Little Black Pearl and our glass program.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Brittany Corner

Great Work to help struggling youth!

Photo of Tracy Kirchmann

Thank you Brittnay! And thanks for reading our proposal