Creating Faith-Based Partnerships that Work: White House and COGIC Partner to Help Faith and Community Organizations Build Their Capacity

COGIC Blog - Photo 1As part of the 108th Holy Convocation of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships partnered with COGIC Urban Initiatives to present a panel discussion on opportunities for partnerships between faith-based and community organization and Federal agencies.  Entitled “Faith-Based Partnerships that Work,” the discussion highlighted the unique role of the Federal Centers for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (CFBNP). Located inside many Federal agencies, these Centers serve as a resource for secular and faith-based non-profit organizations seeking to partner with Federal agencies to address the needs of their local communities.

Led by the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education (ED CFBNP), the COGIC workshop included staff representing several Partnership Centers along with pastors and staff from COGIC-affiliated organizations and other community-based organizations that had partnered with Centers in the past. These representatives described their experiences partnering across issue areas, including education, housing, health and human services, and veterans issues, among others.  For example, Dr. Gwendolyn Diggs, Assistant Superintendent Educational Operations for the Ferguson-Florissant School District, commented on how a partnership with the ED CFBNP has resulted in the 1) increased collaboration between the School District and community partners and 2) the strengthening of various programs that benefit the School District’s students.  Paula Hearn, Executive Vice President of COGIC Urban Initiatives, discussed how COGIC’s Partnerships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships strengthened their ability to reach hundreds of students throughout the nation with the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program.

After this broader discussion, participants received practical training from staff of the HUD Center on building the capacity of local non-profit organizations to more effectively carry out their mission. This workshop was excerpted from the HUD Center’s Signature “Capacity Building and Grant-Writing Training.” In the training, participants received personal instruction from HUD CFBNP staff on how to secure 501(c) (3) status, strategic planning, creating the organizational structure necessary to secure government funds, and how to become more competitive for Federal grants. Participants also received valuable lessons on best practices in partnering with Federal agencies Attendees felt that the lessons on past partnerships from Federal staff and community partners, combined with the practically-oriented capacity-building workshop, provided new tools and strategies for organizations to pursue their mission.

Organizations interested in partnering with relevant Federal agencies can find complete contact information for all Centers for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the White House website here. Faith and community organization seeking to learn more about the “Capacity-Building Training for Emerging Organizations,” or other partnership or training opportunities, can contact the Department of Education’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at (202) 401-1876 or Centers stand ready to partner with faith-based and community organizations as they pursue their vital mission serving communities nationwide.

By Paula Lincoln, Director of the HUD Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and Joshua Bancroft, Program Specialist for the HUD Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships

In Ferguson, Missouri, The Community and Schools are Working Together

Ferguson Blog - Photo 1

On a recent trip to Ferguson, MO, my office colleague, Dr. Ken Bedell, and I had the opportunity to visit with community leaders. The trip supported Secretary Duncan’s promise that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) would not forget this community.  Our recent visits to the city have strengthened relationships and created partnerships that are already making an impact in Ferguson schools.  When the Ferguson-Florissant School District (FFSD) requested assistance regarding its Summer STEM Program, we connected them with Hope Worldwide, an international charity dedicated to delivering sustainable, high-impact, community-based services to distressed communities.  Hope Worldwide helped supply FFSD with robotics kits to replicate the District’s STEM efforts and provide equitable learning to its students.  Additionally, our collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, FFSD, and local community-based organizations for the Summer Meals Program increased the number of students receiving meals.

We also hosted a meeting of community leaders committed to making Ferguson a safe and healthy environment for youth and their families.  It was excFerguson Blog - Photo 2iting to hear about the local efforts of these organizations.  Church groups are supporting the development of small businesses in Ferguson. Ernst and Young has initiated a mentorship program. The Urban League has created an Empowerment Center in Ferguson to better serve the surrounding neighborhoods in North St. Louis County.  Pen or Pencil, a National Alliance on Faith and Justice (NAFJ) service learning program, is mentoring and working to reduce dropouts and prevent crimes. Other federal agencies are providing services to the school, including AmeriCorps Vista, which has placed volunteers within schools, and the National Parks Service, which is working to increase the educational opportunities and capacities of students.

Dr. Joseph Davis, the new Superintendent of FFSD, and Dr. Gwendolyn Diggs, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Operations, shared the FFSD’s vision: to 1) create an elite K-16 S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) school, 2) enhance professional development and educational opportunities for teachers, 3) train parents to become educational professionals in their own households, and 4) strengthen family and community engagement to establish a culture where education is understood as a shared responsibility by all community members.

Our perspectives from Ferguson echo the remarks of Secretary Duncan following his visit to the city:

Education is—and must continue to be—the great equalizer that overcomes differences in background, culture, and privilege. Educational opportunity represents a chance at a better life, and no child should be denied that chance. Where our children lack that opportunity—it’s not just heartbreaking, it is educational malpractice, it is morally bankrupt, and it is self-destructive to our nation’s future. I don’t believe that we are going to solve the challenges in Ferguson and places like it from Washington alone; but, we can be part of the solution if we listen closely to the people living in these communities. Making things better for kids, their families, and their schools will take all of us working together. We can—and we must—get to a better place.

As we continue to listen and work with FFSD, we can ensure that every student has the chance to achieve his or her hopes and dreams.

Together for Tomorrow: Connecting the Dots

We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be – this is the interrelated structure of reality. -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Staff with panelists

A primary key to strong partnerships is examining and truly understanding what it is like to function in a role different than one’s own where expectations and priorities may differ.  Recently, at the Institution for Educational Learning’s (IEL’s) National Family and Community Engagement Conference, The U.S. Department of Education Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (ED CBNFP) created the space for such an opportunity where CBOs, families, and educators gathered to understand how to 1) become more sympathetic and empathetic regarding another’s needs, requests, and concerns in the educational sphere and 2) foster an atmosphere more conducive to initiating and maintaining long lasting relationships and partnerships that benefit students and promote high academic success.

The workshop entitled, Together for Tomorrow:  Connecting the Dots, included education advocates and employees from various backgrounds who demonstrated how educational improvement is everyone’s responsibility – including students, principals, teachers, school staff, families, CBOs and volunteers.  The workshop provided its attendees a) specific examples of where communities and schools have connected the dots and b) general guidelines for successful partnerships.

Dr. William Truesdale, Principal of Taylor Elementary School in Chicago, spoke about his role in integrating families into the school to participate in advancing the school’s mission.  He mentioned how he framed the engagement around six fundamental human needs as expressed by Steven Covey and Tony Robbins. Ms. Jamillah Rashad, Elev8 Director who serves as a community liaison and parent/student advocate for the Marquette School of Excellence, voiced how the power of one-on-one relationships can strengthen efforts in raising school achievement.  As an example of how these relationships work, Ms. Rashad directed the audience to engage in a brief conversation with someone with whom they were not familiar as a demonstration of the role and importance relationship building plays in helping schools and students thrive.  Becoming a Man (BAM), an organization which currently serves over 2,400 young males in 20 schools in the Chicago area in an effort to “develop social-cognitive skills strongly correlated with reductions in violent and anti-social behavior” in “at-risk male students,” also presented in the workshop.  Led by Youth Counselor, Zachary Strother, who expounded upon how BAM’s six core values positively impacted its students, four BAM youth expressed how the organization has helped to improve their success in the classroom and changed their lives for the better.

One of the most important takeaways from the workshop was that parents and extended family members can serve as bridge builders between schools and community groups.  They often serve as leaders or members of CBO’s that can partner with schools.  The session allowed both its participants and audience members to leave with a greater confidence in their own ability to encourage and support school, family, and CBO partnerships that support student success.


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Eddie Martin is a special assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Fowler Head Start: Beneficiaries of the Pre-School Development Grant and a Place where Parents Can Dream Too!

Parents speak about their future dreams and plans, and showcase these aspirations in artistic portfolios

Parents speak about their future dreams and plans, and showcase these aspirations in artistic portfolios

My dream is to speak English.  I also want to finish school, and this photo shows how I plan to look and dress in the job I want to have.  My hopes are to one-day gain a job as secretary or in an administrative position.-Fowler Head Start Parent  (Translated into English)

Can you imagine a school where parents are encouraged to dream – something that we, as adults, seldom do now that we have grown up?  The Fowler Head Start Program inspires such action as it intentionally facilitates opportunities for parents to envision and express artistically a world where all of their hopes and dreams come true.

At Fowler Head Start, the principal and his staff have discovered that investing in the lives of a child’s parent/caregiver drastically improves the student’s educational possibilities.  As a part of the Fowler family, not only do parents feel more inclined to participate in activities hosted by the school, but they also contribute to the planning and organizing of the events.  This comes directly as a result of the school’s constant care for and engagement of the whole family.

In recognition to its commitment to its students and families, Fowler is a beneficiary of the U.S. Department of Education/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Pre-School Development Grant – a grant created to “support State and local efforts to build, develop, and expand High-Quality Preschool Programs so that more children from low- and moderate-income families enter kindergarten ready to succeed in school and in life.” Fowler understands that in order for a child to have the chance to succeed in life, the school must also invest in the whole family’s needs.

During a visit to Phoenix, U.S. Department of Education Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Staff (CFBNP) were privileged to observe how the incorporation of family into the classroom space greatly contributes to a student’s learning.  Three, four, and five year-olds graced CFBNP staff with a student performance entitled, “Trip to Shanghai.”  Students danced, sang, and told tales of Ancient Eastern folklore. The artwork, planning, and preparation for the event were guided by both the teachers and the families of the students.

Welcome to Shanghai!  Decorations created by parents and teachers for the students’ performance

Welcome to Shanghai! Decorations created by parents and teachers for the students’ performance.

Fowler staff expressed how the relationship between teachers, the principal, and the families helped spark the academic interests and imagination of its students.  The creativity was evident when Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell was led on a tour and discovered beautiful artwork (including a fabulous portrait of herself crafted by a three-year-old!) created by students, including pictures of the Eiffel Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge.  Fowler has gathered data to show that students who attend high quality early learning programs such as Fowler, excel in reading and math at a higher rate than their counterparts of the same age who do/did not attend Head Start.[1]

The staff and teachers at Fowler have earned the trust of the families they serve.  This trust stimulates a parental desire to become more involved in their children’s academic pursuits and helps children stay excited about learning.

[1] FESD #45 AIMS Reading: % Passing Comparison – Performance of Head Start vs. Non-Head Start Students

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Eddie Martin is Special Assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Wow! A 95.5% Graduation Rate!

CFBNP Director, Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Principal Cabrero, and Arizona Department of Education Staff celebrate the achievements of Franklin Police and Fire, including being named as U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School

CFBNP Director, Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Principal Cabrero, and Arizona Department of Education Staff celebrate the achievements of Franklin Police and Fire, including being named as U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School.

Wow, a 95.5% graduation rate at Franklin Police and Fire High School! Congratulations! The opportunities available to students demonstrate why Franklin Police and Fire in Phoenix, AZ was honored as a Blue Ribbon school by the U.S. Department of Education.  For the school, excellence in education is possible for all of its students through the care and collaboration of its community partners, families, and school members dedicated to ensuring their students’ success. In the present moment where community ties are stressed and distrust may continue to grow between citizens and those who have sworn to protect and serve them, Franklin Police and Fire is committed to changing such a paradigm and engaging in promising practices that continue to drive student achievement.

In four years as Principal at Franklin Police and Fire High School, Lorenzo Cabrera and his staff have accomplished amazing feats in this area. On a recent Together for Tomorrow site visit to the school, U.S. Department of Education Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Staff saw up close the benefits of how the school and its partners from the police force and fire department are working together to raise student achievement.

Students work with local fire and police departments where they learn skills such as CPR, First Aid, and team building. The students’ physical and emotional resilience are tested as they endure rigorous training and are confronted with difficult scenarios that firefighters and policemen often encounter daily. These scenarios are also reviewed in the classroom, where students have the opportunity to analyze and discuss how to maintain proper procedure while under duress. Moreover, students’ ethical insights and implicit biases are often challenged as they critically engage current controversies and events that have received national attention involving police forces across the U.S. Above all else, students are taught the value of integrity in their relationships with these partners and education within the school.  Because integrity is so important to the school, students are the required to recite its definition daily – “doing what is right even when no one is looking.”

In addition to its partnerships with the fire and police departments, Franklin Police and Fire High School promotes high student achievement though academic rigor, small class sizes, and heavy emphasis on college access. Students can receive college credit, earn various certifications, and even secure summer internships and employment, such as wildlife job opportunities offered through the Bureau of Land Management.

The partnership between Arizona State University’s (ASU) America Dream Academy (ADA) and Franklin Police and Fire helps families improve the educational outcomes of their youth. In ADA, the parents/caregivers of “at-risk” K-12 students partake in a nine-week program to “gain the knowledge and skills necessary to improve the educational development of their children, including methods to improve parent/child relationships; how to reduce dropout rates; and ensure high school graduation.” Such an initiative allows families to “take charge of their children’s education” as it helps to “build stronger families and communities.“

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Eddie Martin is Special Assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

CFBNP Participates in Module Madness

“My dream is to become the Athletic Director at the University of Alabama one day.  I have applied to the University of Alabama and am determined to get there.  I know that it may be difficult to make that happen and there will many temptations, but this is my goal and I believe I can achieve it.”

The previous statement serves as one of the many aspirations spoken by local students to U.S. Department of Education (ED) Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (CFBNP) staff during a recent visit to Bowie, MD.  Recently, CFBNP staff had the opportunity to lead a My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) workshop for youth from the Maryland, District of Columbia, and Virginia regions as a part of Jack and Jill of America’s (Prince George’s County Chapter) 2015 Module Madness event.  Module Madness is an annual youth development initiative divided into several different workshop components (called modules) that focus on youth leadership and financial literacy.  CFBNP staff addressed two of these modules – self-discipline and life skills – by coaching and working with teen facilitators to lead breakout sessions for over 65 students ranging from the 3rd to the 12th grade.

Special Assistant Eddie Martin listens to the youth.

Special Assistant Eddie Martin listens to the youth.

The breakout sessions for the MBK workshop ranged from CFBNP staff helping 11th-12th students to brainstorm and create career roadmaps that explain in detail the steps they should take to achieve their career passions to engaging 3rd-5th grade students on what makes them feel powerful and how they can work to create positive change in their schools and communities.  Additionally, all students shared remarks in a final session entitled “The Reflection in a Mirror,” where youth discussed 1) how society often perceives them based upon their ethnic background and 2) the challenges they can individually and collectively overcome to succeed in life.

The students were very insightful, genuine, and self-reflective as they participated in the different sessions. For example, when asked to examine Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” one student replied that such a perspective can be applied to all areas of our lives, and we should not let anyone negatively influence how we perceive ourselves.  Additionally, when students were asked how they could work to transform any personal weaknesses into strengths, one male courageously admitted that that though he often has little patience with family and peers, he plans to communicate more effectively with them to mitigate his frustrations and get along better with others.

Overall, the workshop served as one of the many ways that the ED CFBNP participates in White House and ED Initiatives to celebrate the efforts of schools, families, and community organizations to improve the life outcomes of youth, and how the team works with these groups to create a culture of educational excellence within our society.  Such efforts allow us to carry out our mission to help ensure that all youth, especially those who are most vulnerable, have the opportunity to pursue their career dreams and aspirations by receiving a sound education and the support of a caring community.


Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell with the youth.

Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell with the youth.

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Eddie Martin is Special Assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Life’s Priceless Moments: Engaging Youth in Madison, WI

lpm-quoteprivilegeWhat does it mean to hold on to hope in a place where the odds are stacked against you and the pathway towards success seems like an almost impossible cliff to climb?  I was reminded and humbled by such a sobering reality when speaking to three young high-school aged males during a recent visit to Madison, WI. On October 17-18th, I represented our office alongside our National League of Cities partners to meet with city officials and community stakeholders to discuss “Making the Most of Out-of-School Time” for Madison youth.   As part of the visit, I had the opportunity to speak with middle school students from the Lussier Community Education Center and young men from a group called Brotherhood. When arriving at the Community Center, I was met by over a dozen energetic teens brought together by Executive Director Paul Terronova and Youth Program’s Manager Daniel Steinbring.  Even though the students were returning from a competitive event at school, the young Lussier middle school students engaged in our conversation. I asked them questions regarding their future dreams and aspirations, their personal gifts and talents, and mentors in their lives.

As the conversation progressed, three older teens from the group called Brotherhood arrived to the Center.  The young middle school students and adults present seemed somewhat distracted (and maybe even intimidated) by the arrival of the group as the Brotherhood members did not appear eager to engage in conversation.  When I asked them questions similar to those that I asked the middle school students, the older teens were at first very reluctant to answer.  I sensed much obstinacy, frustration, and even anger within them as I inquired about their future goals and plans.  As someone who has worked with youth for over ten years, I felt compelled to focus my attention specifically on them as the middle school youth and adults listened, wondering where the conversation would go from there.

It was at that point that I needed to let them know that beyond all of my titles and under my suit there was someone who looked like them, who, in many ways, could relate to their struggles, and who cared deeply for them even though we had just met.  I knew I needed to meet them where they were – to be empathetic and show them I authentically care for them. When I began to open up to them and tell about past challenges in my life, the young men felt I was “trying to get into their heads” at first. However, when I asked what gives them joy in their lives and one responded, “seeing my sisters and my mother happy,” we instantly connected, as I informed him I shared his sentiments regarding my own two sisters and mother.  It was at this point we all began to truly connect, and from there the conversation flowed and would continue for another hour and a half.

When I revealed to them the obstacles that I had to overcome and some of the struggles I still face as a black male in society, they acknowledged their ability to relate and opened up about many of the challenges they face every day in Madison.  With the adults and middle school youth still present, the Brotherhood members willingly shared with me their fears and doubts about their own leadership capabilities and how society often disparaged them because of their ethnicity and style of dress.  I could plainly see that they desire to thrive and make something out of their lives but lack the resources, mentorship, and knowledge to maximize their potential.  Furthermore, it seemed as if they, like many of our young men of color, began to doubt their own worth because of the prejudices and presuppositions they often encounter on a daily basis.

I saw them wrestle with my constant reiteration that they are more powerful and have more potential than they than they realize. It is amazing how we can plant positive seeds of confidence and lpm-quoteseedsencouragement in the hearts and minds of our youth once they truly realize that we deeply care about and believe in them. The more that spoke positively to them about their abilities, the more they acknowledged their own sense of self-worth. At one point, one of the students stated, “Mr. Martin, you are the first person that has even taken the time to care for us and speak to us in this manner…” Another of the three students reminded me of a question that I posed to them earlier in the conversation. With watering eyes, he said, “Chaplain Martin, you asked me what I would say if I had the opportunity to speak to the President about my community. What I want to tell you is that one day I want to be President, and I want to make sure that all communities are equal so that other youth won’t have to deal with some of the same struggles and issues that we have dealt with.”

The students continued to tell me how they want to make changes in their own community, including adding a basketball court near where they lived so that youth in their neighborhoods have positive recreational outlets. As the conversation ended, they showed excitement about the opportunities that lay ahead in their future. A member of the mayor’s staff was present during the conversation, and the student were even invited to the out-of-school time town hall meeting the following day where they would have the opportunity to meet the Mayor and present their requests to mayoral staff regarding establishing the basketball court.

I left feeling inspired and had only one regret – that I would not have the opportunity to see and speak with these youth every day. However, I have made it my goal to reach out to them as often as possible and remain a positive mentor in their lives. This conversation reaffirmed the mission of both our Office and of the Department of Education as it pertains to promoting student achievement for all of our nation’s youth. We, as human beings, have the privilege, responsibility, and power to transform the lives of our youth – one child at a time – with our work. In order to do so, we have to stand firm and persevere to the end despite any obstacles or set backs that stand in our way; for the welfare and lives of future generations depend upon our efforts.

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Eddie Martin is Special Assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.

Visit to Savannah

On a visit to Savannah, GA as part of its partnership with the National League of Cities (NLOC), the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships received a “taste of Southern Hospitality” as over fifty youth from the Chatham County Youth Commission and Savannah Youth Council greeted their visitors from DC with gratitude, exuberance, and a wealth of information.  The meeting with the youth councils served as a precursor to a larger community conversation to discuss the challenges facing middle school youth and how to use afterschool programs as a solution.

Staff facilitated conversations with the young council members regarding the educational needs of the Savannah community. The middle and high school students answered questions such as: “What can adults do to partner with you to make sure you have the high quality programs you need to equip you for the future,” “How can in-school and after-school be complementary,” and “Is there something we need to make sure President Obama knows that needs to be accomplished at the City level, what would you tell him?”

Students responded with such answers as:

Adults can partner with us by helping to implement programs that are based on our career choices.  My parents did not make it out of high school, and I desire to be an aerospace engineer; so my parents are at a point where they are unable to teach me the necessary skills and next steps to become what I want to be in life.  I want a mentor who helps me understand the pathway to reaching my career goals.

I think afterschool should have programs that help kids learn more about life – survival skills.  Kids now-a-days are more interested in the future.

I would tell the President that we need more good teachers – specifically teachers who also care about the students not just about their learning.  That to me is a good teacher.

The next day, CFBNP staff participated in the Savannah community conversation where over 200 stakeholders were present.  The conversations consisted of three panel discussions, moderated by Center Director Brenda Girton-Mitchell, a working lunch composed of roundtable discussions, and a call-to-action and proclamation by Mayor Edna Jackson.  Savannah leaders voiced their perspectives regarding the needs and successes of the Savannah education system as they reflected on their own experiences growing up and how afterschool programs were integral to their growth.

For example, Terry Enoch, the Assistant Chief of Police in Savannah, commented on how his experiences working on a farm, playing sports, and then becoming part of the Boys and Girls Club laid the foundation for him to grow into a productive and responsible Savannah citizen.  He attributes those experiences to his desire to “pay it forward” and serve his community.  Emma Fellows, an eighth grader from Savannah Christian Academy and an officer on the Savannah Youth Council, spoke about how dancing at an early age helped her to learn about her own abilities and how tumbling helped her to acquire certain soft-skills such as perseverance and patience.  She explained that at her school, one of the biggest issues is cyber-bullying. However, through the positive engagement of adults and leadership from peers, she was confident situations like these can be addressed.

Following the panel and roundtable discussions, Major Jackson commended her community leaders on their desire to work together to improve the life outcomes of Savannah’s youth.  She explained that it would take a united effort to remove the barriers of success prohibiting youth from achieving their fullest potential. To conclude the community conversation, the mayor announced that a Task Force would be formed before the community’s next meeting to engage in further planning to address the challenges facing Savannah youth.

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Eddie is a Special Assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Secretary’s Back to School Bus Tour 2014: My Brother’s Keeper in Birmingham, AL

Young men and women participate in the Secretary's Back to School Bus Tour My Brother's Keeper Roundtable DiscussionDuring a My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Town Hall on July 21st, President Obama announced that he wants to enter into communities and “feel like something is different,” where collective investment in the lives of youth has become a cultural norm for entire societies.  The city of Birmingham, AL is making countless efforts to establish such a culture, as was evident during the Secretary’s “Partners in Progress” Back-to-School Bus Tour in the historical Civil Rights Movement city.  On September 9, 2014 at JH Phillips Academy, ten vibrant youth from five different youth-serving organizations had the opportunity to share how their own organizations were making a positive impact on their lives and helping to place them on a pathway towards success.   Their perspectives were part of an MBK Roundtable Discussion, which featured Secretary Duncan, HUD Secretary Julian Castro, and Mayor William Bell, where Congresswoman Terri Sewell was also present and delivered opening remarks during the occasion.

Department of Education Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Director, Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, facilitated the roundtable. During the discussion, the youth participants expressed how they and the Birmingham Community collectively can serve as advocates for MBK in an effort to “make sure that every American—including our boys and young men of color – can reach their full potential.”  The discussion was unique as it included both male and female participants and captured how MBK incorporates all of our youth, including our young men and women of color.

As Director Mitchell engaged the students on issues related to the six MBK universal goals, the youth participants responded genuinely and passionately, holding nothing back.  For example, when asked the question, “How would you address and motivate your friends and your colleagues who do not have the same opportunities as you,” one student responded:

If I can get my friends to be motivated to do something, then that encourages me. If I can get them up on their feet, then they can walk.  And the next step is to get them to run.  I want my friends to make it all the way to the top with me.

When Director Mitchell addressed the female students and inquired how they viewed themselves as a part of the MBK initiative, one young woman stated:

 Our men are our brothers and uncles.  I have a twin brother.  I see the struggles for black men.  They have to be two times as good just to be recognized as equal.  I see myself and other women as support for our black men who stand by our sides.

And when the students were asked, “If you had the opportunity to address President Obama concerning the educational needs of your community, what would you ask him to do?”  Students responded with such answers as:

 I would ask the President to create more professional development activities and hands on projects for both teachers and students.

I would tell the President to introduce more academic based extracurricular activities in our communities.

I want President Obama to know that the black people here in Birmingham are trying.  There are a lot of things that we know; we just need more opportunities.  We may not have the opportunities to be lawyers or doctors, but I want the President to know that we should open the community to more positive chances…and that we need living examples that are positive in our lives…

Speaking in the academy’s library with over 150 people in attendance, the young participants left an indelible impact on the crowd.  They affirmed that with the necessary resources and collective support of the community as a whole, they would have a substantial opportunity to achieve their dreams as they would continue to strive to reach their fullest potential.



Young men and women participate in the Secretary's Back to School Bus Tour My Brother's Keeper Roundtable Discussion

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Eddie Martin serves as Special Assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.