Celebrating Local Black Heroes: Gwendolyn Hooker

On the left: "Celebrating Local Black Heroes" on top of the name "Gwendolyn Hooker," on top of the BBBS logo. On the right, Gwendolyn stands, arms crossed and wearing a black dress, smiling at the camera.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Michigan is proud to celebrate Local Black Heroes throughout the year. During Black History Month, we are highlighting several Local Black Heroes and businesses. Sign up for our e.news to get updates in your inbox and learn more about the impact of local heroes in your community.

Gwendolyn Hooker is the CEO and Founder of Helping Other People Exceed (HOPE) Thru Navigation. She is also the Owner of HMG Navigation & Planning, LLC. Through her life’s work, Hooker is an advocate for social justice with a story of defying the odds.

HOPE Thru Navigation

HOPE Thru Navigation’s mission is one Hooker is passionate about, as it is close to her heart. They strive to assist those with substance abuse disorders and/or criminal backgrounds navigate services in order to gain stability in their lives.

She explains, as a person with a history of substance use, “Society counted me out so many times I lost count, but due to grace and mercy … I am a walking billboard for the HOPE that changes everything and beating the odds of statistics. Sometimes all someone needs is someone that believes in them, listens to them … and encourages them to keep on going no matter what!”

Through her meaningful work at HOPE, Hooker is that person for many, giving back what she received in her time of need.

GIVING BACK

Hooker says she wants to give back what she received during her journey to recovery. “I give back by pouring into my community [and] by advocating for people experiencing social justice inequities.”

She goes on to explain, “In the 6th grade I was sticking up for a friend with special needs who was getting bullied and got my arm broke because of it. That [was] the day I decided I was going to be the voice for the voiceless at all cost. From challenging the criminal justice system and the disparities in sentencing, to educating and informing Black and Brown folks with criminal backgrounds how important their voice being heard at the ballot box is, to developing affordable homes for people with barriers to nice, safe, and decent housing.”

NO GLASS CEILING

Hooker hopes her story is evidence to others that there is nothing they cannot accomplish. She shares, “…there is no glass ceiling, there isn’t a ceiling at all!”

Her life-story is a testament to this truth. She explains, “I have taken some very painful hits, some self-inflicted but most were not. I have been broken, discouraged, and at times without hope, but I always got back up, better and stronger.”

INSPIRATION

Hooker’s mother, grandmother, aunt, and “sister” Mattie Jordan-Woods have all been mentors to her over the course of her life. She explains, “I attribute the foundation of my recovery to my Aunt Tammy, my Sponsor Gwen Lanier, and Judge Schma.”

Judge Schma founded Kalamazoo’s Drug Treatment Court in 1992- among the first of its kind in the nation. (Read more about that here.)

Hooker shares, “I am inspired by God’s majestic handiwork: sunsets and thunderstorms … real-life stories of triumph over tragedy … courage over fear.”

HOPE CHANGES EVERYTHING

Her life story is one that, statistically, should have led to very different outcomes. Nicknamed CK for “Comeback Kid” by her family, Gwendolyn Hooker defied the odds stacked against her. Today, her success is an inspiration to many.

“…if a little black girl from the Eastside of Kalamazoo, with a criminal background, and a substance use disorder can do it, so can they! HOPE Changes Everything!”

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