When Samantha Gholar moved to Sarasota four years ago, she had trouble finding friends who looked like her.
Out at bars and restaurants, Gholar rarely saw young black people, and when she attended events hosted by young professionals groups, she felt unwelcome and alone. She decided to do something about it. Last year, Gholar founded Emerge Sarasota, a nonprofit dedicated to connecting the area’s minority young professionals.
She struck a nerve. A group that began with a handful of members has grown to about 80 participants who attend the organization’s social mixers, arts outings and volunteer and charity events. Most are African-American, but Emerge Sarasota is also drawing an increasing number of Latinos and Asians. Members come to have fun, but also to meet fellow young people who can sympathize with the struggle of sometimes being the only non-white person in an office.
A former reporter, Gholar more recently worked in marketing, but earlier this year decided to plunge into Emerge full-time. She’s using her knowledge of branding and social media to grow the organization and is pursuing grants and other funding opportunities.
Eventually, Gholar would like to see Emerge become a voice that speaks for young minority professionals at local government meetings, weighs in on civic issues and shines a spotlight on an often-overlooked community. “There’s a large group of people in town who are very talented, very skilled, very intellectual, that people don’t even know about,” Gholar says. “This city is affluent, and I feel like we are being left out.” Emerge’s mission: change that.