Forward Promise

By: Martha Holley-Miers

Each of us is a story. Every time we are wounded, our story is interrupted.

 – Jerry Tello, National Compadres Network

As the National Director of Strategy and Development for Higher Achievement, I spend most of my days reading, writing, and in meetings. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, however, I was lucky enough to snag a spot at the Philadelphia launch event for Forward Promise, a new initiative supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to improve the lives of boys and young men of color (BYMOC). From the opening “Dialogue with the Elders” session, where Native American leaders were talking about sweat lodges, storytelling, and the legacy effects of violence and colonization, I knew I was in for a new experience filled with learning.

At the heart of Forward Promise’s work is the question: If it takes a village to raise a child, what does it take to strengthen, stimulate, and create healthy villages? They will support efforts to strengthen the communities and networks that surround BYMOC to acknowledge the debilitating effects of historical and systemic trauma; implement culturally-responsive, healing practices; and engage BYMOC to “heal, grow, and thrive.” This laser focus on the needs of BYMOC aligns with Higher Achievement’s commitment to serving high-need students across our four affiliate communities. At Higher Achievement, we seek to close the opportunity gap – through mentoring, year-round learning, exposure to careers and college – as a means to close the achievement gap. The conversation at the Forward Promise event, though, made me realize and reckon with the fact that we don’t always pause enough to acknowledge the pain and trauma that infuses many of the communities and families we serve.

I’m proud to share that we are grappling with those questions within our current strategic planning process.  Different from all previous efforts like this, we truly are taking a “blue sky” approach to this plan, being open to radically new thinking about how we deliver our program. We are also engaging our most important audiences – our scholars, families, and mentors – to make sure that the programs we offer meet the needs of these stakeholders and do so in a culturally-responsive manner.

What do you think it will take to strengthen and stimulate Higher Achievement into a healthier village that helps all of our scholars to heal, grow, and thrive? If you would like to lend your voice to that effort, please get in touch with me – I am listening and eager to learn.

Photo Caption: Three youth performers from the day highlighting Forward Promise’s motto: Heal, Grow, Thrive