Promise’s Big Bang Turns 10


Roz Wiggins of the Yale School of Management offered the title “The Big Bang” for a segment about the Kalamazoo Promise in her Cities of Promise town hall case study last November at PromiseNet.

“It wasn’t the first place-based scholarship, but Kalamazoo was the first program of its kind that made a citywide commitment and it caught the country’s attention,” she wrote.

That “Big Bang” occurred at a city board of education meeting on Nov. 10, 2005, and now folks in Kalamazoo have rolled out the activities in a yearlong celebration of its 10th anniversary. The Kalamazoo Promise — which expects to enroll about new 500 recipients each fall — has awarded more than $60 million in anonymously-funded scholarships, leading to more than 1,000 degrees.

“We may never know those donors’ names, but we know how they helped bring this community together and how you’ve embraced their Promise not just as a gift to be appreciated, but a responsibility to be fulfilled,” President Barack Obama told the 2010 graduating class of Kalamazoo Central High. “We know how they have helped inspire an entire generation of young people here in Kalamazoo to imagine a different future for themselves.”

Under the theme “The Promise We Keep,” the events leading up to a formal anniversary include a series of community conversations focused on the barriers which have kept Promise-eligible folks from utilizing the award, a downtown community celebration in August and a return of PromiseNet, the national conference which was established in Kalamazoo.

“We knew that The Promise was a gift that would change lives,” Von Washington Jr., executive director of Kalamazoo Promise community relations, told Alex Mitchell of the Kalamazoo Gazette. “What we’ve learned over the past decade is that it’s a gift that can transform a community, but only to the extent that the community steps forward to make sure The Promise is kept for everyone.”

No, Not A Pet Project


One of the exciting developments in the Promise movement in 2014 was the establishment of the Richmond Promise in California’s Bay Area, which was announced in August.

The man credited with its founding was city council member Jael Myrick, who negotiated the package with Chevron Richmond as part of the Richmond Refinery Modernization Project. While the funding has yet to begin to flow, students in the city will soon have college options previously unavailable.

Myrick was one of six local officials to fly across the country in November to attend PromiseNet 2014 in New Haven, Conn., and admitted afterward that the delegation learned so much that they’d need some time to decompress and assess.

Since then, Myrick — who is not yet 30 — has been named the vice mayor of the City of Richmond for 2015. His closest council ally on the Richmond Promise project was Tom Butt, who is now the mayor. Expect a lot of movement with the Promise in 2015.

Myrick — pictured at left above with Von Washington of the Kalamazoo Promise at the Yale University Art Gallery in November — recently posted a suggestion regarding the initiative to his Facebook page:

The next person who refers to the Richmond Promise as a “pet project” has to come with me to Kennedy High (better yet Gompers) and give their Bachelor’s Degree to a deserving but struggling High School Senior, quit their job and then go online to find a new job with no degree or certification.

Yes, the commitment stands.

Crowdsourcing For His Kids


In so many ways, John Fetterman is an unlikely mayor of a struggling old steel town outside of Pittsburgh. First of all, he doesn’t necessarily strike one as mayoral. He stands 6-foot-8, weighs 350 pounds, sports a goatee and has a fondness for tattoos.

He isn’t even from hardscrabble Braddock, Pa., but was drawn there in 2001 to work for AmeriCorps after earning his master’s in public policy from Harvard (yeah, that Harvard). Fetterman’s first assignment was getting young people to earn their GEDs. He became the Mayor of Braddock in 2005 (by a single vote) and has held the position ever since.

He has the town’s ZIP code, 15104, tattooed on his left forearm and gets inked on the right arm with the date of every murder that takes place in Braddock. He is uniquely down for his town, which includes being arrested for protesting — and refusing to leave private property — when his town’s hospital was shuttered.

Fetterman is tied to his town’s 16-to-24 age group and all those who have passed through that age range since his arrival. And when the Pittsburgh Promise was announced, he made it a goal to bring that kind of commitment to his town, where population has been dropped for decades.

Fetterman founded Braddock Redux, which intends to mobilize teens and young adults to build a better Braddock and create opportunities. Now, under that umbrella organization, he has launched the Braddock Promise.

Money is the issue, it is always the issue. His solution? Crowdfunding. Fetterman’s goal is to raise $250,000 and, to date, the initiative has yet to raise its first one percent toward the goal, but the vision to change outcomes in Braddock isn’t a sprint. It’s more like a marathon.

“We want to give students an incentive to continue to go to school and get good grades,” Mr. Fetterman said. “It isn’t a hypothesis or theory, this is what works, and we want to bring it to Braddock. Why wouldn’t you want to be able to tap into the population that is coming out of Woodland Hills that doesn’t have the advantages of someone living in Squirrel Hill?”

A wise man wouldn’t bet against Braddock or Fetterman. In fact, he’d instead watch and learn.

This Is A True Story*


Usually when a conversation about Promise programs begins, it is focused on education. But the notion of economic development has been drawing interest and catching up as a sidekick to the education component.

But in a recent story in Prairie Business Magazine, the idea of starting a Promise program is mentioned as a way to attract workers to fortify and grow the local economy in Fargo, N.D. Education appears to be an afterthought.

In the forefront of the discussion is the “massive competition in every industry,” said Craig Whitney, the president of the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce. One anecdote is that jobs are so plentiful in the region that UPS drivers have been lured away from their job while making deliveries, abandoning trucks with keys and packages inside.

So in conjunction with TIP Strategies of Austin, Texas, a consulting firm conducting a six-month study of the area’s workforce, everything is on the table. That includes mention of a Promise program to bring workers to the area with the lure of education benefits for their children.

“Part of this study that we’re embarking on through this consulting firm may give us some ideas of what can be done to retain and recruit workers,” he said. “We just don’t have enough people to support the growth.”

* Here is the story of this reference.