Monika Matthews poses with Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales during the opening of QueenCare’s Central District location; both of them are wearing masks and holding a single rose

A Generational Wealth Trailblazer: Monika Matthews

by Ronnie Estoque

“When I think about generational wealth, I think about legacy. And that’s something that’s always been important to me. I started my nonprofit organization to actually fulfill my life’s purpose,” said Monika Matthews, founder and CEO of nonprofit Life Enrichment Group (LEG).

Matthews started the LEG 22 years ago to provide academic and positive mentorship opportunities for African American and other Youth of Color in the community. A big goal of hers was to close the achievement gap, which she believes is directly connected to economic inequality.

“All of these gaps that Black and Brown kids and people fall into hinders us from moving forward when we’re talking about building generational wealth,” Matthews said. “We’re not passing the torch properly, or the torch is not lit enough. … I feel like that hurts us, because we need to amass and pass down property, businesses, things that our children can grasp onto and build upon.”

Matthews became a teenage mother at the age of 15 and acknowledges that many factors were against her, including attempts to label her as another statistic. She attributes her belief in the value of education to her mother, who constantly reiterated its importance as she grew into young adulthood. For Matthews, a big part of her education was learning more about her cultural background and reconnecting with her identity.

“I meditated day and night. I meditated, I prayed, and I just wanted to get insights as to, like, what’s my next step? And sometimes that’s what it takes. It takes shutting down, like quieting yourself. It’s actually a form of self-care to take time for yourself to just think without outside influences, like the television or the radio, and just other people,” Matthews said. “A lot of times, we run from there because we’re not comfortable with sitting with our thoughts.”

In 2015, Matthews opened QueenCare, which focuses on providing locally sourced self-care products, such as candles, skin-care creams, and other products made from natural ingredients. Currently, QueenCare manufactures its products at its Columbia City location, and it has a storefront in the Central District that opened last year. Through the LEG, she created paid scholarship and internship opportunities for Black youth in the community this past summer. They learned business skills that she hopes will make them competitive within the job market, even if they choose not to open their own businesses.

“I’m in real time building in my community, for my community. And I think that showing that to young people is more powerful than anything I could ever say to them, because now they want to follow in those footsteps,” Matthews said. “One positive adult in a young person’s life can change the trajectory of their whole life, even if it’s not their parent, you know, and I think that’s so very powerful.”

Currently, Matthews is set on remodeling her Columbia City space this upcoming February and hopes to open a third location somewhere in Pierce County. She says listening to youth about their needs has helped guide her vision for the LEG and QueenCare. This past year, the LEG added 20 new jobs, which she hopes can help community members become economically stable.

“Black and Brown people have historically been intentionally left out of economic development across the city, and so we have to be strategic about inserting ourselves at tables and places where economic conversations are happening, which means we have to be educated enough to do that, we have to understand what is going on,” Matthews said. “I’m really blazing this trail, and there’s a lot of ups and downs with that. I’m not doing everything right, I’m not perfect, but the bigger picture of this whole thing is the legacy, is passing it down and having something to build from.”

This series is supported by the City of Seattle’s Generational Wealth Initiative. The South Seattle Emerald and its contributors maintain full editorial control over all its coverage.

Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.

📸 Featured Image: Monika Matthews poses with Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales during the opening of QueenCare’s Central District location on Feb. 11, 2021. (Photo: Susan Fried)

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