Jonathan Gardner, center , started the nonprofit GardHouse to help students of color get internships and other work-related experience. (Photo: Courtesy of GardHouse)

Landing a paid internship, apprenticeship or some other work-based learning opportunity is hard enough for college students of color — and the pandemic has only made it harder. Jonathan Gardner recognized this challenge and decided to do something about it.

Three years ago he founded GardHouse, a nonprofit that connects college students of color with minority-owned businesses so the students can get real-work experience throughout their college years.

On April 30, GardHouse will host a drive-in documentary premiere with a goal of raising $30,000. Gardner said the money will be used to provide five students with paid internships for the 2021-22 academic school year. 

“[Over] the last 50 years, students of color graduated twice as likely to be unemployed than their counterparts,” Gardner said in a recent interview. 

Gardner, who grew up in Philadelphia, moved to Charlotte to attend the Charlotte School of Law. When the law school closed in 2017, midway through his second year, Gardner found that he could not easily find meaningful employment. Conversations with friends revealed similar challenges. 

“I realized that there was always something missing in terms of resources for professionals of color,” Gardner recalled.

Documenting ‘true emotion’

The documentary — “Breaking Barriers” — follows the lives of four Black college students attending local universities as they juggle their school work, real-life situations and work-based opportunities during the Covid-19 pandemic. The film will be screened at the outdoor cinema, Black Classics (4100a Raleigh Street), at 8 p.m. 

Gardner said he and Black-owned production company Modern Eye Photography decided to do a documentary because they wanted to get the “emotional appeal from actually hearing someone’s voice,” opposed to writing an article or creating a webpage. 

“We would have conversations with our students that we felt needed to be shared out,” he said. “There’s just something about hearing and seeing raw footage that’s appealing. That true emotion is something that you can’t replicate.”

By teaming up with Modern Eye Photography, Gardner said he hopes to demonstrate to his supporters “what authentic looks like,” and show the resources students need in order to bridge the economic mobility gap going forward. 

Family Dinner

Since GardHouse’s inception, the nonprofit has connected more than 200 students with paid internships with more than 50 minority-owned businesses, Gardner said. The film screening will be the nonprofit’s second Annual Family Dinner Fundraiser. The inaugural fundraiser in 2020 was completely virtual because of the pandemic. 

“We wanted to stay consistent with the theme of, ‘you always meet with your family,’” Gardner said. 

In addition to the drive-in, GardHouse also is offering a streaming option for people who prefer to stay home. The first 50 people who buy virtual tickets will get a GardHouse gift box and a chance to win a free meal from Ve-go Food Truck. 

Get drive-in tickets here, or streaming tickets here. In case of bad weather, the event will be moved to May 1.

Jonathan is a former QCity Metro reporter who covered Charlotte neighborhoods north of uptown. He also reported on education, public safety and health.

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