The Opportunity Movement

Devoted to closing the Opportunity Divide

Tag Archives: social justice

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 legacyofchange.org, 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.

 

Searching for answers

I have listened to the 911 calls, read everything there is to read, watched the news, signed a petition on change.org, and listened to our President speak on the matter. I still shake my head.  Trayvon Martin should not have died that day.

I was still reeling from the news of his killing, trying to make sense of something so distressing, when amidst my emails there was one from Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s parents.  It was a painful and emotional email to read; one that I could never imagine writing about one of my own children.  But yet they wrote it.  It requested that I sign a petition calling for George Zimmerman’s prosecution and trial – a petition which has already gathered more than two million signatures.

I listened to Trayvon’s mother speak this morning at a Congressional hearing, and she said something that moved me deeply: “Trayvon was our son, but he was your son too.” Trayvon’s tragic death demands an explanation, and demands to be explored. Those responsible need to be brought to justice.  The explanations and the explorations, though, are not limited to the man who confessed to the killing.  They extend to the media, who waited for weeks before focusing on the story.  They extend to the Sanford police department, whose handling of this case appears questionable.  They extend to us – the general public – who have to look within to begin to understand how this could have happened.  Trayvon’s death represents so much of what we already know – and don’t want to admit – about the society within which we live.

I am deeply saddened by Trayvon’s death and my heart is heavy as I think about his family.  Yet I am hopeful that justice will prevail, and that the public sentiment that this tragedy has ignited will somehow move us forward in a positive direction.  Our urban young adults are assets – not liabilities – to our society and economy, and the need for more Americans to realize this is all too evident in this tragedy. I am proud to work in an organization that strives to be part of the solution and know that our efforts pay tribute to the many individuals who have paid a tremendous price striving for increased justice, equity and opportunity for all.

United We Stand, Opportunity Divided We Fall

Dominique Jones

There are many inspiring leaders of the Opportunity Movement, and I look forward to introducing more of them on this blog.  Today’s update comes from Dominique Jones, a recent graduate of the Year Up program.  Dominique graduated from Year Up Bay Area on Thursday and now works as a contractor for Salesforce.com.  Here’s what she has to say.

I was born in Oakland, California, a city with a rich history of both beauty and violence. Young people are often used as scapegoats for the crime-ridden parts of Oakland, while their potential goes unnoticed. Here, to the naked eye, a young man is only a hoodlum in a black hoodie, sagging jeans, and sneakers. He is a miscreant, unwilling to do his part to become an effective member of society. Who are these young men who decorate corners, breaking glass to match their broken spirits? They are the Opportunity Divide manifested in human beings.

What social elements created such a large group of talented young people who are so far from attaining the vision that they see for their lives? To me we are divided by the absence of three things: Empathy, Expectation, and Excellence.

In Oakland 2011, the murder rate rose for the first time in four years, the last three murders of the year being children under the age of five. This is a statistic, turned expectation that if left unattended, will become a scarier “E” word: epidemic. A lot of people expect Oakland to be violent, its inhabitants taking on its character. No one wants their city to have this reputation or to have the expectation of aggression tied to them because of their origins. It takes a certain awareness to be able to empathize with this. Subtly, armed with the tools of professionalism, young people refuse to leave this statistic unattended.

Year Up is a program that understands the social elements that create an environment for potential to be stifled and suffocated. Instead of giving young people a handout, Year Up asks us if we are willing to expect more out of our lives and helps us transform that expectation into excellence. The expectation of punctuality is transformed into the ability to be consistent. The expectation of professional language is transformed into the ability to speak and write eloquently. All that was needed was space and opportunity to allow our light to emerge from the dark places where we are told we aren’t enough and never will be.

My experience has been one where I was told that I was extremely gifted by teachers and counselors, but never offered advanced courses in high school. I had to seek them out. In college, I thrived academically and struggled financially, eventually having to drop out. I’ve always read voraciously, navigating the world as a student for life, but the doors to a bright future were always guarded by a looming figure of rejection that held me behind a red rope or red tape, depending on how you look at it. It may have been simple institutional bureaucracy or lack of expectation for a young, intelligent person from an urban background to thrive among students with different experiences. Either way, I could never get my name on the exclusive, four-year college guest list. I tried Year Up. It has worked for me. I’ve been able to sharpen my skills, earn an amazing internship at Salesforce.com, and prove that I can thrive in what Forbes called “the world’s most innovative company.” Me. Dominique. From Oakland.

Now ask yourself: what social element is created when such a large group of talented young people return to their neighborhoods, changed? That is an epidemic that I can stand behind.

%d bloggers like this: