Murdic blazed her own trail in health and nutrition education after working for organizations like The Food Trust and HipCityVeg.
Welcome to How I Got Here, Be Well Philly’s look inside the entrepreneurial journey of fitness and wellness business owners in the Philadelphia area. In their own words, they share their stories — including the triumphs and obstacles — of starting and running a business.
Who I am: Jiana Murdic, founder and director of Get Fresh Daily (@getfreshdaily), a social enterprise celebrating community, culture and plant-centric living through high-energy events and education. Get Fresh Daily interrupts dominate narratives depicting wellness as inaccessible for marginalized communities by showcasing people of color actively engaging with nature and exhibiting healthy, vibrant lifestyles.
The route here was not traditional, but my experiences have prepared me for where I am today. It started with my first real job out of college. I landed a job in the marketing department at Freedom Theater during an exciting time of growth for this historic organization. Walter Dallas had emerged as artistic director and was producing spectacular performances featuring work by artists and playwrights like August Wilson, Sonia Sanchez, and Rennie Harris. Having majored in English Literature and minored in Fine Arts at Lincoln University, an HBCU, this job spoke to my soul. Arts and nonprofit marketing resonated because I loved the process of creating and implementing campaigns that promoted community, positivity, and the arts.
However, I was a single mom of a son under three, and the long hours and commute from Delaware to Philadelphia just weren’t working. After about three years at Freedom, I decided in 2000 to go back to school to earn my Masters in Education and secure a job that worked better with my schedule and lifestyle. By September, though, I was rocked by a series of events that would transform my life and outlook. My father, his brother, and only sister all died within four months of each other, from heart disease and diabetes. To say my family was rocked by these events is a gross understatement — it was and continues to be the most traumatic time in my life. My entire family suffered PTSD for many years after that. I was emotionally raw and mentally drained. Yet somehow, I poured everything I had into raising my son and finishing my degree. It took nearly three years to finish my program, attain my teaching license, and land my first classroom.
It was then I realized that student could not stay still during the 90-minute reading block that began our day. He was hyperactive due to all of the sugar, artificial flavors, and synthetic dyes he had been eating for breakfast.
At the time, I became aware of the direct impact that students’ food choices had on their ability to focus and achieve during class. I’ll never forget the day a young mother brought a missed breakfast to her child during class. She was almost panicked, saying, “Even if it’s a honey bun and Little Hug, I make sure my child eats breakfast.” It was then I realized that student could not stay still during the 90-minute reading block that began our day. He was hyperactive due to all of the sugar, artificial flavors, and synthetic dyes he had been eating for breakfast. This mother clearly knew the importance of feeding her son breakfast, but the issue was availability of and access to healthy food. I began bringing in big trays of different fruit and vegetable snacks for my students to taste, and was surprised by how much they loved it. I realized that healthy foods were a treat for them because they had an abundance of access to candy, cookies, and sodas at corner stores that surrounded their schools and homes.
Both fascinated and infuriated, I launched a crusade to learn more about children’s nutrition and food access that I could share with the children and families in my classroom, and ultimately the entire school. Then, Michelle Obama launched Let’s Move!, which changed the course of my life. The very subject that I had become obsessed with had become the definitive platform for the first Black First Lady. At that moment, I knew that my time in the classroom was over and I would dedicate my life and career to improving the health and eating habits of youth. When the school year ended, so did my career as a classroom teacher, and I moved to Philadelphia.
To be honest, I didn’t know much about careers in public health or nutrition. I just started broadly searching for work in health and children’s nutrition and stumbled upon The Food Trust, which felt like I had hit the jackpot! I hounded them for a shot at any position – it didn’t matter, I had to get in there. After countless calls and emails, I finally connected with the person who oversaw interns and volunteers. Not only was she from Delaware, but we had attended the same high school. She helped me get an interview. When I met Sandy Sherman, one of the founders of TFT, she sized me up and asked lots of questions. I didn’t have the education and they couldn’t pay me, but she recognized my passion and appreciated my background in education and marketing and brought me in as an intern. I think I got a $250 stipend to create marketing materials for their Healthy Corner Store initiative. Even though it was odd being a 30-something intern surrounded by college graduates, I loved being creative, using my marketing skills to connect children in community to healthy eating. My projects were very successful, and I ended up revamping their entire website. It was my first taste of success in my new field.
In 2009, Philadelphia was awarded $10 million by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of its Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) program. It focused on community-based preventative health care measures in alignment with the launch of the Affordable Health Care Act. While the Philadelphia Department of Public Health was the grantee, The Food Trust was its main collaborator, and would be managing, developing, and implementing many of the city-wide programs. School wellness was a significant part of the initiative, and they were looking for a team to lead it. I applied for the position, and became the very first hire for Get Healthy Philly and Philadelphia Campaign for Healthier Schools.
I became the lead by default since I was the first hire, and directly managed and developed the initiative’s marketing and programming campaigns. I was to create a school-based initiative that would engage students in wellness activities in schools throughout the School District of Philadelphia. I was given a budget and autonomy to work with an agency to create a campaign that would resonate. I became the architect of HYPE: Healthy You. Positive Energy. It was a spin on a term used in hip hop culture, and I turned it into a phrase that expressed the high energy that comes from being healthy. I knew this concept was hot, but I found myself the only Black woman on the campaign at the time, pitching the concept to public health and education professionals who simply did not get it. The campaign almost didn’t happen, but in the end, they took a gamble, and the campaign was a roaring success. Not only did the students in schools rally around the cause, the campaign was plastered throughout the city on billboards, buses, and print and TV ads, as well as on shirts, folders, and basketballs in over 160 schools across the city, ultimately impacting over 80,000 students city wide. The campaign received well over $5 million in funding, and awards from the very initiative that motivated me to pursue this career: Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! After a 10-year run, the campaign just concluded this year.
I became acutely aware that many of the city’s biggest public health, nutrition and education organizations serving people of color didn’t have many people of color in leadership or on staff.
I had learned so much from The Food Trust, but my position was grant-funded, which meant I was out of a job after my third year. Given my successes at TFT, I left feeling confident I’d find a similar position in one of the other city-wide organizations we had partnered with during CPPW. I found nothing but doors being slammed in my face. I became acutely aware that many of the city’s biggest public health, nutrition and education organizations serving people of color didn’t have many people of color in leadership or on staff. I also began to realize the importance of cultural competency in these fields. Food is communal, generational, familial, and personal in Black families. We are not going to listen to anyone who we perceive as not being able to understand this, as it has a direct impact on your approach. The awareness of this disconnect would become essential to my work. As I had championed the HYPE campaign, I believe it’s more effective to introduce wellness as a celebration of healthy living vs talking punitively about the outcomes.
I decided to try consulting in charter schools, as they had been left out of the citywide initiative. Since I was a former charter school teacher, I knew they had more autonomy to create systematic change. I was introduced to Dr. Naomi Johnson Booker, CEO of Global Academies. Dr. Booker’s approach to education is dynamic and progressive, and she was interested in school wide wellness to her entire school community. I was hired at 5 to ten hours per week to manage small-scale wellness projects. This was exciting but financially, I was still struggling. I continued looking for full time work. Positions continue to come up within the very same agencies I had worked with during the CPPW initiative, and again, door after door continued to close. I didn’t have the background, education, experience… and on and on. I was depressed and realized I might have to give up and go back to the classroom. But every time I would have that thought, a little voice would say – don’t stop, keep going. So I kept going. At this point I was fueled by passion and faith.
One day out of the blue, I got a call from the parent of one of my son’s friends. She’d heard of my work and wanted to discuss an opportunity to join her organization as Executive Director to promote plant-based wellness and education in communities. Umm, yes please! We met and I learned that her organization was Get Real Get Raw, the nonprofit arm of HipCityVeg at that time. The initiative would be funded by scaling HCV’s signature green smoothie, “The Groothie,” for a wholesale market. It was a gamble but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be a part of such a fascinating project. My first goal was to rebrand the company and their signature product, which I did, affirming that building brands was my jam! I got an inside peek at the inner workings of HipCityVeg and its founder, Nicole Marquis, just as she was just opening Charlie was a sinner. and expanding HipCityVeg beyond Philadelphia. What an education! I learned how to take a product from concept to market, but most importantly, I learned about vegan culture, the vegan movement, and plant-based eating as a lifestyle. It resonated with me as a niche definitely missing in communities of color. I was at Get Real Get Raw for three years and had an extraordinary experience that ultimately transformed my personal attitudes and beliefs about what plant-based living looked like. It also helped me become more aware of access to healthy foods and what was available to the families at the schools I worked in. (Also, my 100% whole food, plant-based green smoothie game is fire.)
I learned how to take a product from concept to market, but most importantly, I learned about vegan culture, the vegan movement, and plant-based eating as a lifestyle.
After that, I was back on the job hunt. I applied and interviewed for yet another job I knew I was qualified for, but I was passed over, once again. I was devastated, doing my best to fight extreme self-doubt – the voices telling me I didn’t have the pedigree, the experience — whatever it is, I was clearly not enough. But this time, I knew with certainty that with all of my experiences and successes, I truly was qualified to do the job I wanted to do. I decided that I couldn’t continue putting myself in this position, that I would have to just create an opportunity for myself.
I took matters into my own hands to create Get Fresh Daily. On December 31st, 2016 Get Fresh Daily received its LLC designation. I decided to go at it full force. I was done waiting for someone to hire me so I could bring their vision to life. I decide to invest that time and energy into manifesting my dreams. I decided to be fearless — there was no Plan B because there was no place for doubt. I was still doing consulting work for wellness programming in schools. By Spring 2017, Dr. Booker decided that wellness would be a defining component of their school platform. My contracted hours tripled overnight. My role was to now oversee school wide wellness policy and programming for their entire school community, comprised of over 1,200 students, teachers and families.
By Summer 2017, I heard about The Invisible Vegan, a film by Jasmine Leyva about the Black vegan experience. I decided Get Fresh Daily should host the Philadelphia premier. I connected with Jasmine, and she agreed. A friend connected me with Kirtrina Baxter from Soil Generation, who was involved with Philadelphia Assembled, a community-based exhibit running at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. They agreed to allow Get Fresh Daily to screen the movie and to host a post-screening event, free of cost, as part of the exhibit. That Fall, The Glow Up, Get Fresh Daily’s breakthrough event, brought together over 100 people of color together in shared community, in celebration of plant-based lifestyles.
To address real health and wellness, we not only have to teach what it means to live a healthy lifestyle, but we also have to address the social justice issues and systemic racism issues that make it particularly challenging for Black people in marginalized neighborhoods to live well.
By Spring 2018, I recognized that we needed to go beyond school-day programming to truly support children and family wellness, and decided to venture into out-of-school time programming. To address real health and wellness, we not only have to teach what it means to live a healthy lifestyle, but we also have to address the social justice issues and systemic racism issues that make it particularly challenging for Black people in marginalized neighborhoods to live well. We have to address why Black people are disproportionally impacted by chronic diseases that are reversible and preventable with healthy lifestyle changes. Most of our families live in neighborhoods that are saturated with access to unhealthy foods, products like alcohol and tobacco, and limited access to safe, green spaces to play and be active.
With the launch of Get Fresh Daily’s camp initiative, Camp Excellence, in the Summer of 2018, came a more holistic approach to wellness for our organization. I expanded our mission to include mindfulness, nurturing creativity and a connection to nature, alongside food and health justice education. With our camps, our staff of up 25 are primarily people of color, modeling holistic wellness and healthy living for our campers, eight hours a day, every day for six to 12 weeks throughout the school year. And as with the rest of our programs, camp is rooted in fun, play, creativity and culture. We don’t preach wellness; we live it.
Now in its 3rd summer, Get Fresh Daily camps are year-round, serving approximately 100 children per camp. Due to COVID, Camp Excellence Summer 2020 is virtual. We are still serving the incredible need of community connection, self-actualization and holistic wellness packaged in fun, positivity and creativity. We are now in camper’s homes for over two hours every day, and we are excited about the next level of family involvement. We continue to serve the needs of the communities that need it most — especially during these times — by delivering passionate programs that connect with families where they are.