By Irene Biju
On Nov. 3, Jasmine Crowe-Houston visited Duke to give the Fall 2023 Sanford Distinguished Lecture. Crowe-Houston is the founder of Goodr, an organization that works against hunger and food waste. My professor Alexandra Zagbayou in my Women as Leaders class invited me to a pre-event conversation with Crowe-Houston to get to know her in a more personal and informal setting.
As soon as I met Crowe-Houston, I could tell that I was talking to someone special. I walked into the room for the conversation, and Crowe-Houston’s smile and warmth immediately made me feel comfortable. As we asked her questions, I could see her passion for her work shine through her words. She strongly believed in solving this problem of food waste, as it was an environmental justice issue and a poverty justice issue. She was passionate about the issue because, as she said, hunger affects “people that look like me.” She puts empathy into everything she does, and it has paid off.
In her lecture, Crowe-Houston explained how she got involved in this issue. When she lived in Atlanta, she saw how many homeless people were in the city. She decided to create a pop-up restaurant on Sundays with food and music. She called them “Soul Sundays.” Eventually, she was feeding hundreds of people each week, using coupons and deals to fund these meals.
She expanded her work to create a B corporation, Goodr, that uses technology to connect businesses with nonprofits and turn food waste into something usable. She turned a problem into a solution. “This food is hope,” she said.
Listening to Crowe-Houston taught me life lessons that I will carry with me throughout my time at Duke. Being in the Women as Leaders class this semester, I was interested in her journey as a woman leader. What particularly struck me was her relationship with her employees. She said, “It’s the woman in me that makes me think about the whole employee.” As CEO of this organization, she gives her employees a stipend to use for whatever they desire, including food, gas, mental health, pets, etc. Again, she valued empathy in her work, and she brought this same attitude to the work environment she created. In college, it is often difficult to remember caring for oneself. We are always in search of the next job or internship. It was reassuring to hear a CEO emphasize the self-care of her employees.
Crowe-Houston’s approach to her work also struck a chord. I have participated in many canned food drives in my childhood, and I never really thought about where the food went. Looking back on it, was I really helping anyone by giving them a single can of peas? Crowe-Houston discussed in her lecture how she wanted people to have “dignified experiences” by giving them usable food and recipes if they needed them. Giving people food is different than giving people a meal. As I reflect on her words, I think about how I want to apply these concepts to my time at Duke. I am an aspiring public policy and computer science major. I am working towards making a difference in society, but every so often, I need to stop and think about whether I am actually helping people. We may think we know how to solve a problem when the reality is that the only right way to solve a problem is to center the people affected, and to empathize with them.
What I will take away from Jasmine Crowe-Houston's conversation is the importance of empathy, for those helping you and for those you are helping. It is so easy to stand on the outside and think you know what is best for someone, but this is not change. Change is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Change is standing beside someone and working together towards a solution. Change is empathy.
Irene Biju '26 is a first-year student from the suburbs of Philadelphia. She intends to double major in public policy and computer science. She is very excited to be part of the Polis/PolicyLab Duke History Project Team as a Polis Research Fellow to learn more about Duke's complex history, and she hopes to use this experience to further develop her research skills. Ever since Irene was a child, she has been interested in law, so she hopes to go to law school in the future. In her free time, Irene likes to play tennis, play the piano, and train her Border Collie.