By Monique Garcia
Photo by Monique Kuhlman
Meet Duke Givens, an involved father, a talented photographer, and CEO of Care Closet Long Beach. When I asked, “What is the first word that comes to mind when you think about yourself?” His answer, “Long Beacher.” It comes as no surprise when you learn about his love for his community and its people.
In service to Long Beach, Duke founded Care Closet, a nonprofit public benefit organization that works to end homelessness in the city. With the help of the homeless community, he created a team that has cleaned up over 1,328,000 pounds of trash since they started at the end of 2020. With donations and partnerships, Care Closet has also handed out 3,000 sleeping bags, 2,100 plus tents, and more than 20,000 meals.
Not just the CEO of Care Closet, Duke is also a wonderful father to two young boys. His nomination for this issue came from Tonia Hill, Principal at Bethany School, where one of his sons attends. "Anything he puts his mind to is usually to help others," said Hill. "He is always stepping in and giving it his all."
She had a lot of praise for Mr. Givens as a father and community member. "I love his unending passion for all people," said Hill. "He sees every challenge as an opportunity to make a difference."
JACKRABBITS AND BEYOND
Duke grew up in East Long Beach, and while attending Poly High, he witnessed how fear and lack of opportunities ruined the lives of his friends. Boys he grew up playing football with were pulled into a dangerous world of violence and drugs. So, at 17 years old, Duke graduated and decided to join the United States Air Force.
"I left the gang war in Long Beach, something that was quickly becoming a genocide, only to serve in Desert Storm, another war," said Givens.
Duke was honorably discharged after serving four years. When he returned home, his parents surprised him with a Canon film camera. He had absolutely no experience in photography, but after enrolling in a photography class at Long Beach City College, he fell in love.
"I shot everything from architecture to weddings," said Givens. "But it was my city and the people in it that really got me passionate."
"STOP GANG VIOLENCE"
His passion grew from a project called "Stop Gang Violence." It started as something of a calendar that featured his childhood friends, including Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, and Warren G. The project honored a generation of friends he had lost and those he was still losing to violence and drugs.
"Stop Gang Violence" was only Duke’s first step into becoming an activist for stopping gang and drug violence. His career working for Long Beach Transit, first as a cleaner, then a driver, and lastly as a supervisor, connected him to the city like never before. He connected daily with the places and people that make up Long Beach. Years later, he would meet and connect with people in the homeless community and establish Care Closet.
"All my experiences led me to starting Care Closet. The connections I had as a photographer, connections from working at Long Beach Transit, and all the people I got to know over the years joined together for this."
Duke's motto and slogan for Care Closet is "LilByLil." The problems he and his team face seem impossible when looking at the big picture. For example, picking up 1,328,000 pounds of trash. But as long as you do a small bit every day, little by little, they can get it done.