The Opportunity Movement

Devoted to closing the Opportunity Divide

Category Archives: Year Up Stories

Leading a legacy of change: Reflecting on the first Year Up Alumni Summit

Shanique Davis

Today’s update comes from Shanique Davis, a member of Year Up’s National Board and a Year Up National Capital Region alumna.  Shanique, along with National Board Member and Year Up Boston alumnus Greg Walton, led the organization of our first ever Year Up Alumni Summit, which took place in Washington, DC last week.

Last week, my colleague Greg Walton and I hosted 150 Year Up Alumni from across the U.S. at our very first Year Up Alumni Summit. Centered on “Leading a Legacy of Change, we hoped to build a rapport between alumni in different cities; to show that, as alumni, we can be even more of an asset to not only Year Up, but the world; and to share our knowledge and eagerness to pay forward the opportunities we’ve had while continuing to establish ourselves as young professionals. It was truly a sight to see, and the impact on those of us in attendance was even bigger than what we could have ever expected.

Throughout the events – an inspirational dinner with Daniel Beatty, dinner discussions reflecting on ourselves before and after Year Up, and several sessions focused on how we alumni are serving our communities and how we can continue to progress professionally – the connections we made were phenomenal.  I instantly felt like I was among family, just as I did at Year Up National Capital Region when I was going through the program.  It was deeply powerful and inspiring to meet so many other people with experiences similar to mine – and who shared the same passionate desire to lead change in our communities.

Year Up Alumni Summit

Our main purpose was to lead by example and show what “Leading a Legacy of Change” looked like in reality. A few alumni who attended, thinking they weren’t doing enough to make a difference, did not realize how much they have done so far and are continuing to do. We learned that we even have some who have started their own programs, such as MentorCorps, a mentoring program in Boston lead by alumnus Kern Williams. Talk about leading a legacy – this is definitely evidence of true alumni strength! Alumnus Ky Smith of Baltimore summed it up best when he told us: We are economic assets to our country.

I quote Michelangelo in saying, “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim was too high and we missed it, but that it was too low and we reached it.” It sometimes takes moments like these for us to realize anything is possible when we put our minds to it.

Shanique and Greg with Gerald Chertavian, Founder and CEO of Year Up  Alumni Summit 2

This Alumni Summit showed us that we are a family, with the same purpose in life: to be a better person, change the way society looks at us as a whole, and set that foundation for a better future for our kids. In moving forward from this event and its knowledge, I know that more alumni will continue to lead their own legacy of change and share what they experienced here with others, so that we can impact even more young adults. With the unveiling of our new site, we are now able not just to tell, but to show how we are doing this. We can do more, and we can make our voices heard and our actions seen when advancing opportunity.

For alumni, whether or not you attended the summit, please get involved. Reach out to your fellow graduates and continue to be a part of this movement that is bigger than us all. We can make tomorrow a whole new day of change, and a step toward our future. As Ky said, we are economic assets to our country, and we have the power to change it.

We are very grateful to Microsoft and Southwest Airlines for making this gathering possible.


A Father’s Day Reflection

“It doesn’t matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.”  – Anne Sexton

After eleven years of being involved with Year Up, Father’s Day takes on a different meaning – or perhaps more accurately – an expanded meaning.  I often find at Year Up that the emotional range that we experience at work is much wider than what I was used to in the for-profit sector.

Back then, a great day was making money, and a really tough day was managing an employee who had a personal problem.  Now, the joy felt when one of our young adults succeeds on their terms and according to their expectations is beyond description – satisfying to the core of my being.  Sadly, the pain felt when one of our students finds themselves in harm’s way is palpable and all-consuming.

I am reminded each Father’s Day of the joy and the pain of our work.  It is joyful to awake to a slew of thoughtful text messages from young men and women who I have known, cared for and mentored over the past decade. It is an honor and a blessing to be trusted by them and to play a small part in their journeys.  As Lydia Child said in 1836, “Blessed indeed is the man who hears many gentle voices call him father!”  Every Fathers Day – without fail – I get a call from my little brother David Heredia, the inspiration for Year Up who today is a loving father and husband.  David’s voice never seems to change; he is always upbeat, warm and appreciative of the relationship we have crafted together.

However joyful these messages and calls are, it is painful to think that in almost every case, the person on the other side of that text message or phone call grew up without the presence of a father.  This gives me great pause, stops my breath for a moment, and puts a lump deep in my throat.  It is so very unfair that this is the reality for so many of the young adults that we serve.

Please do not take my observation as one based in pity – it is not.  Our young adults are stronger as a result of the adversity that they have faced, and so many want nothing more than to be the parents they never had.  However, it is impossible to deny the importance of having a father to care for you, encourage you, love you, and to provide as a role model.

The absence of a father cuts across racial and socio-economic lines. As James Q. Wilson, professor and senior fellow at the Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy at Boston College, writes, “After holding income constant, boys in father-absent families were twice as likely as those in two-parent ones to go to jail and girls in father-absent families were twice as likely as those in married families to have an out-of-wedlock birth….These differences are as great for white families as for black and Hispanic ones and as large for advantaged children as for disadvantaged ones.”

At Year Up, we are fortunate to work with a wonderful organization called the Family Center, which has developed a course which we teach to all of our students who have children. This 14-session curriculum, known as the Parenting Journey, was created for parents whose own childhood did not provide them with a solid foundation for nurturing themselves or their children.  I often hear how much students enjoy this class, and am pleased that we can support our students in this way.  They deserve it.

As Father’s Day draws to a close, and a new week begins, I am heartened and humbled to reflect on the day’s conversations, and thankful to know that so many other caring males at Year Up had a very similar Sunday.

Reading is believing…or is it?

My father-in-law recently gave me a copy of Peter Drucker’s Harvard Business Review article entitled, “Managing Oneself.”  My first reaction was to be slightly offended, although I remembered speaking to him passionately about Drucker’s prediction that the shape of post-secondary education would change radically, and that we should not take four-year college for granted.  It felt better ascribing my father-in-law’s actions to a generous spirited association with a recent conversation rather than a veiled attempt to get me to improve my ability to manage myself!

In Drucker’s article, he says, “Knowledge workers have to learn to ask a question that has not been asked before: What should my contribution be? To answer it, they must address three distinct elements: What does the situation require? Given my strengths, my way of performing, and my values, how can I make the greatest contribution to what needs to be done? And finally, what results have to be achieved to make a difference?”

I reflected on Drucker’s words, and on the fact that Year Up was just ranked the 4th best non-profit to work for in the Non-Profit Times’ list of the Top 50 Non-Profits.  I’ll be the first one to say that you can’t believe either the really good or the really bad things people write about you.  However, I am proud of this ranking, and think that it is largely driven by the alignment of values among our colleagues.

Everything we do at Year Up- whether it be with students, staff, or outside stakeholders should be driven by and consistent with our six core values.  We should always have a “line of sight” from our daily actions to our values, and continually reinforce people when they support our values and pick them up when they don’t.  It is a process that is critical to our long-term health and our ability to serve students well.  If we hire people who resonate with our values, it is up to us to help them to identify their strengths, to clarify their goals, and ultimately to support them in maximizing their contribution to our students and our mission.

While we are by no means the best at getting this right, we aspire to be, and that is important.  We are working hard to improve our ability to help our colleagues develop their careers, and to be thoughtful about the support that we provide to them along the way.  Although it never feels like enough, our turnover is less than half the industry average.  We must be doing something right.

Drucker also noted that “organizations are no longer built on force but on trust. The existence of trust between people does not necessarily mean that they like one another. It means that they understand one another.” As I take a moment to humbly enjoy the positive acknowledgment that we received from this most recent ranking, I immediately turn my attention to what else we can do to continue to build trust and understanding among our colleagues, what we can learn from other organizations on that list, and how  we can keep hiring and developing the very best people in this country to collectively close the Opportunity Divide.

Bending Towards Justice

As some of you may know, each year thousands of young adults from across the country apply for one of the most competitive and coveted internship programs in the nation – a White House internship.  There are only 140 spots available and each applicant goes through a rigorous application process that makes getting into an Ivy League college seem like a piece of cake.   I am told that the essays are judged for grammar, and that each applicant is assessed against their commitment to public service and their leadership potential.  Most of the applicants come from elite academic institutions and my guess is that they are not short on support to help raise their profiles amidst the fray.  I could imagine helping my own son or daughter find just the right adjective to spice up their essay to differentiate it from the rest.  I could also imagine combing through my contacts file to see if I knew anyone who could advise us on the best way to win this brass ring for the little Chertavians.  Well, I am pleased to say that two of Year Up’s students stepped up to the plate and grabbed that brass ring for themselves.   They competed and beat thousands of other applicants on their merit, and earned the opportunity to serve their country as White House interns.   Like all of the young adults that we have had the honor to serve over the past decade, we know that they are the true assets in our society, and our goal must be to provide them with the access and opportunity that they deserve.  It is ultimately a self-motivated goal, for we need their talent and leadership to ensure that our country remains competitive and our standard of living continues to rise.

Last week, Year Up had its Board meeting in the nation’s capital at the Year Up National Capital Region (NCR) site.  We were honored to receive a tour of the White House by…..drum roll please….these two Year Up students.   What an inspiration!  With security badges fluttering in the breeze, our two students deftly guided us forward amidst the metal detectors and security officers.  Think of the circle that this represents.  From a founding class of twenty-two students on the 5th floor of a Boston brownstone to being hosted by two of our wonderful students as we walked through the rooms of the most influential building in the world.  Dr. King once said that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.  On this day, I could feel it bend….just a little, but it did bend.

As we walked through the rooms of the White House, I was reminded that until very recently all of the faces on the walls were of one color.  That is no longer the case, and whatever your politics may be, we are a better nation as a result.  I wondered how our two interns – both African American, both from very low-income backgrounds – felt as they walked alongside our Board members, and listened with us to the stories of our nation’s founders.  I am hopeful that they felt that the American Dream was not a dream but a reality; a reality for them to grasp and to enjoy.  I wholly recognize that two students do not change a country, and this small bend in the “arc of the moral universe” may well be imperceptible, although as long as we keep walking, as long as we keep bending, we have hope, and with hope we have a future.

%d bloggers like this: