Kindness Always Counts

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For thousands unexpectedly separated from their loved ones at the worst of times, a region of strangers stopped everything to provide care and support. And the passengers on Delta Flight 15 on Sept. 11, 2001, never forgot.

Perhaps you’ve heard that 53 international flights — about half being U.S. commercial planes — were re-directed to Gander, Newfoundland, in response to the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., on 9/11. Suddenly a relatively sleepy aviation hub used as a refueling stop for trans-Atlantic flights was filled with “plane people,” thousands of stranded travelers.

The length of stay was uncertain as all public air travel came to a halt and local officials scrambled to assess and address the need. The passengers on Flight 15 would end up in Lewisporte, about 20 miles from Gander. The town’s mayor, Bill Hooper, put out the call to his community for bedding and food. Much more came in return. “They cared for us in so many different ways, but they did it in such a marvelous way. They didn’t hover over you … they just seemed to be very perceptive about what the different people needed,” said Shirley Brooks-Jones, a retired administrator at The Ohio State University, “Essentially, they closed down the town. Everyone was helping. And the shopkeepers in the few places that were open wouldn’t let anyone pay.”

The “plane people” stayed in Lewisporte for three days before getting clearance to fly back home. Tight bonds were made both among the passengers and their caretakers. Brooks-Jones would call it “the most beautiful experience I have ever had in my life.”

As Flight 15 finally prepared to leave Gander, Brooks-Jones asked the captain for permission to address her fellow passengers. There was discussion of the hospitality they’d received and soon pledge sheets — asking for donations to provide college scholarships for the young folks of Lewisporte — were circulating around the plane. By the time they landed in Atlanta, $15,000 had been committed.

When Brooks-Jones returned to Columbus, Ohio, an anonymous donor matched the contribution. The Lewisporte Area Flight 15 Scholarship Fund — formally established and managed by the Columbus Foundation — has now sent well more than 100 Lewisporte Collegiate School students to college and trade schools. More than $2 million has been donated.

Brooks-Jones, pictured above with Raie Lene Kirby of the first cohort of Lewisporte Scholars, has been back to Newfoundland more than two dozen times — each spring to award scholarships and each Sept. 11 to honor the events that tragically brought her to the province in the first place.

Kirby? She’s now a practicing physician.

A Promise Restrained

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By Brett Hoover

In early November the nation’s Promise programs will convene in Kalamazoo, Mich., for PromiseNet 2015 and among the events will be a 10th anniversary celebration gala of the ground-breaking Kalamazoo Promise.

But early November will also be the 50th anniversary of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which ushered in a national promise in the form of the forerunner to what would become known as the Pell Grant. That program — named for the late Claiborne Pell, a U.S. Senator from Rhode Island — has been a major factor in the ability of students from lower-income households to attend and graduate from college.

Yet for the last 20 years the most at-risk haven’t been eligible to tap into the funds. The Violent Crimes Control and Law Enforcement Act passed by Congress in 1994 wiped out Pell Grants for the incarcerated. The early 1990s saw new spikes in violent crime in the U.S. and the comprehensive act, signed into law by Bill Clinton, was a “get-tough-on-crime” reaction.

Vivian Nixon and Glenn Martin recently co-authored a plea for the Promise of Pell in our prison system. Published on the website of the Department of Education, Nixon and Martin wrote, “This research clearly demonstrates that access to higher education is actually a boon for public safety; it drives down recidivism rates, improves the lives of incarcerated students and returning citizens, and improves the lives of their families and communities.”

In an age when the U.S. has more jails and prisons than degree-granting colleges and universities, this deserves the attention of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch. All across the South, more people live behind bars than on campuses.

The Pell Grant — established to provide an opportunity — has made the country a better place. A promise provides greater outcomes than a penalty.


Brett Hoover — who formerly served as the Associate Director of the Ivy League — is a co-founder of Cities of Promise.

This Town Builds Its Promise

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Up near the top knuckle of the pinkie finger on the Michigan mitten is a fishing town called Baldwin, which is home to fewer than 1,200 people.

Baldwin’s economic success is seasonal, as tourists come to town in the summer to try to catch trout, salmon and bass. Full-time employment is limited and — before 2009 — a small fraction of the town’s students were earning college degrees.

But a local resident named Rich Simonson — who left Baldwin in the late 1960s to become a key player in Michigan politics before returning home to retire — concocted a plan to crowd source tuition money so all the town’s students could go to college. The pitch was simple — if you care about the town, invest in it.

The initial hope was to raise $140,000. They topped that. Now the Baldwin Promise — with the exception of its fishing — is perhaps the town’s greatest identity. Nearly every student heads off to college after what Alana Semuels of The Atlantic calls “a raucous assembly each spring” where students reveal to the school which colleges they have chosen to attend. They get $5,000 a year for four years.

They have signs that read “College begins with Kindergarten” and second-grade teacher Sue Moore says, “I think the kids are more aware of their opportunities now. Before, they didn’t know what to expect after high school. Now they know.”

Simonson passed away in 2012. Not surprisingly, his obituary included a request for donations to the Baldwin Promise.

Will This Be The Face?

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Cities of Promise has often referred to the broad range of scholarship-centric initiatives as “the Promise movement.” And hasn’t every social movement in modern history pushed forward with the establishment of an identifiable face?

So a question for those in education circles is this: Will LeBron James — the global icon who just committed more than $50 million to pay for college scholarships for Akron students — become the “Face of Promise?”

One could reasonably argue that he already is. His announcement came on Friday afternoon and within 24 hours coverage came from a broad range of media — from CNN to ESPN, from Time Magazine to TMZ, from Essence to the Grio, from the Washington Post to the Chicago Tribune to USA Today, and from Fortune to Mashable. His donation is one of the biggest individual commitments in Promise history.

But yet another credible argument would be, “let’s just wait and see.” There is no question of his amazing reach — primarily as an 11-time NBA All-Star with five straight trips to the NBA Finals. He is also a well-known pitchman for enormous companies and Judd Apatow recently called him a “weirdly good actor” after his performance in “Trainwreck.”

His ability to draw attention to the Promise movement would be unparalleled. But will he leverage his gift to his hometown, its students and its largest university to bring attention to programs outside of Akron? Will his focus on his hometown spawn similar programs from other celebrities?

Boy, do we hope so. We’ll just wait and see.