This article first appeared in The Alt on February 21, 2018.

The Capital Region of late seems to be booming with collectives looking to boost diversity while supporting local business and creative endeavors. One of which is run by a college student.

Ú-Leea Santos is a sophomore studying finance at Siena College. On top of her hectic schedule, she and her sister J’Vanay Santos have run Àṣẹ, a collective that gathers leaders and creators from diverse fields and areas of interests to act as a support system for one another in project building and entrepreneurship.

“We were looking around for a group of people with the same values and ideals,” Santos says of their start in the spring of 2017.

In addition to artists, dancers, poets and musicians, the group attracts social workers, entrepreneurs, teachers, therapists, grant writers, graphic designers and yoga instructors.

“We’re big on the idea of collaboration, the development of each person and shining a light on their potential, their passion or what they’re contributing to their community,” she explains.

Community building and support is an important aspect of the collective. In addition to organizing their own events, Àṣẹ is quick to show support for other local initiatives such as Power Breakfast Club, Illuminate Theater Series and Nitty Gritty Slam that gather and encourage a diverse local community in both communal and personal endeavors.

“Support is the biggest benefit,” Santos says. “We all get these ideas and might not go through with them maybe because of self-doubt or lack of resources. It’s beneficial to bring these people together and share resources to band our community.”

For Santos, the importance of the group’s mission is laid out in their name. Àṣẹ (pronounced ah-sheh) comes from the Yoruba language of West Africa, meaning power, command and authority. It represents an opportunity for the members in the group to seize.

“Spiritually, it can be used as a way to say, ‘so be it’ or ‘amen’, it’s a manifestation,” she says. “Everyone has a mission and if that [mission] is what you want to accomplish then, ‘so be it.’ We want to be the link between where they are and where they want to be.”

Àṣẹ gathers 60 to 120 attendees to their gatherings, depending on the event. Since their start, they have held two: a poetry session and masquerade under the name of Mingling Minds.

On Feb. 22, the collective will hold their Black Excellence event, in celebration of Black History Month, at Lucas Confectionery in Troy.

Performances will include dancers David Aloka and Isabel Burlingham, poet D. Colin, hip hop artist A.H.M.E.L and singer-songwriter The Age with music provided by DJ Intell Hayesfield.

Each Àṣẹ event is based around networking and building the community though they have individually different goals and causes. Donations from the upcoming Black Excellence event, for example, will be split between Jim’s Way, a college scholarship fund for low-income youth; and a scholarship fund for Isaiah Smith, the surviving family member of the Troy quadruple homicide victims.