More Fruit From The Seeds Of Promise


There is a Johnny Appleseed result that comes from the establishment of a Promise.

Kalamazoo Promise has hatched more than a dozen programs in the state of Michigan. Earlier this year Cities of Promise featured the Braddock Promise, which is an initiative following the lead of the nearby Pittsburgh Promise. New Haven Promise was the first of its kind in New England and Hartford will join the Promise Nation next year.

Now Illinois is a hot spot for Promise with Harper College announcing last week that its new Promise Scholarship will be serving public high school students in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago starting in 2019.

Chicago’s STAR Scholarship received a lot of attention in recent months when it was heavily cited during President Barack Obama’s push for America’s Promise, which would open up community college as an extension of high school.

But Illinois has also been home to two other community college Promise programs — one in Peoria and the other in Galesburg. And the Peoria Promise appears to be the model for the Harper College initiative.

A quick look at the perimeters show that the program will be rather inclusive as it relates to high school grades, but tight in its requirements for both attendance and community service. Once enrolled as a tuition-free scholar at Harper, there will still be service expectations as well as increasing minimums of grade-point success.

“A college credential has never been more crucial to success than in today’s 21st century economy,” Harper President Dr. Kenneth Ender said. “This program has the potential to positively impact not only deserving and motivated students, but the entire region by presenting employers with an educated and skilled workforce.”

The school’s board of trustees has set aside $5 million from the general fund and the school has also secured another $1 million in donations so far while Motorola Solutions Chairman & CEO Greg Brown and his wife, Anna, are chairing a campaign to raise $10 million to fund the program into the future.

Harper College — perhaps best known as the alma mater of Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin — is located in the Village of Palatine about 25 miles from downtown Chicago.

$5 Mil Toward A Generational Opportunity


Cities of Promise reported in January that folks in Greensboro, N.C., were excited about the possibility of becoming the first metro area outside of the Northeast to become a member of the Say Yes To Education network.

That initiative got a huge boost this week with the announcement of a $5-million commitment from the Phillips Foundation, which focuses on several components of Greensboro’s vibrancy. Executive Director Elizabeth Phillips explained the largest donation in Phillips Foundation history by calling the Say Yes initiative “a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Guilford County.”

The partnerships are being secured in cooperation with Guilford County Schools, the Guilford Education Alliance, the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro and the Community Foundation of High Point. Marquita Brown of the Greensboro News & Record reported that additional donations are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

The only other public mention of an entity in the running for the Say Yes grant is Pittsburgh School District, which already benefits from the expansive Pittsburgh Promise program.

Greensboro expects to know the Say Yes decision in the coming months.

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.

Building Bridges To Success


Perhaps the biggest challenge to the success of a Promise-type program is data. Before Promise programs are established, there is typically little information to be found for future comparison. But once a program has begun, no matter how complete its systems, it takes years to have enough measurable information to be conclusive. It then takes additional time to react and implement plans to address the issues.

So it was disheartening to see the Pittsburgh Courier recently take a break from its typical entertainment fare to publish the screaming headline “Is The Pittsburgh Promise Failing In Its Promise To Blacks?”

The story came just days after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette featured the efforts of ‘We Promise,’ a $200,000 Heinz Endowment program designed to assist black males in the school district to focus on confidence, motivation and time management. That initiative — established in 2013 — stated that boosting the number of black males eligible for Pittsburgh Promise was its primary goal.

Additionally — late last June — the Pittsburgh Promise partnered with the Community College of Allegheny County to provide post-secondary funds in certain career and technical fields while students are still in high school. Next fall the offerings will expand into energy, advanced manufacturing and welding and computer technology.

The Courier’s sensationalized headline and the extensive quoting of Joseph J. Kennedy, IV, didn’t match the facts.

“Two thirds of the kids in the district are at least as African American as President Obama, but two-thirds of the money goes to White students,” said Kennedy, the founder and CEO of Riverbends, Inc., a nonprofit, independent and online organization which promotes African-American genealogy and history.

The district website shows that 53 percent of the students in the public schools are African-American. And Pittsburgh Promise Executive Director Saleem Ghubril reports that 48 percent of the Promise funds — $23 million — that have been disbursed have gone to black students. Even in pointing out the inaccuracy of Kennedy’s claims, Ghubril did concede that Pittsburgh Promise’s distribution of funds is “not where we want it to be yet.” This is not just a Pittsburgh problem, it is a national crisis. It isn’t something that can be remedied by a Promise program or a district or a genealogy researcher. It is something that requires the collective will of an army of people.

Pittsburgh is using data-driven analysis to implement programming to addresses its needs. From its outset, the initiative was focused on raising funds — nearly $200 million to date — to support an enormous number of students. Like most programs do, Pittsburgh had to make some adjustments, including the creation of academic supports and additional student options.

Raising large philanthropic gifts has opened the Pittsburgh Promise to a variety of criticisms, notably from others wishing for a larger slice of the non-profit pie. But no such place-based program is immune to attack. Remarkably, there has even been public criticism of programs from other programs in recent years.

But the measure of the Promise cannot be fully understood in just five or 10 years. Given time to grow, evolve and mature, cities will find what works specifically for them. When they do, cities will change and schools will transform. And that will even happen sooner than later when met with constructive and collaborative support.

UPDATE: Pittsburgh Promise board chair Franco Harris has penned a response to the original piece in the Courier.