March 15, 2018
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For these students, a summer trip opens more doors for success

Renewal Awards finalist Summer Search gives low-income teens a unique opportunity to grow through mentorship and experiential travel

Summer Search is helping to build the next generation of leaders through its unique programming for high school and college students. Photo courtesy of Summer Search

EDITOR'S NOTE

Meet the finalists for The Renewal Awards, a project of The Atlantic and Allstate. These individuals are the forces behind the 25 nonprofits competing for $150,000 in grant money. Ten winners will be announced March 27 at The Renewal Summit in New Orleans, on TheAtlantic.com, and here, on The Renewal Project.

The boundaries of a child’s education are not confined to the classroom, or even the schoolyard. Parents, mentors, and the community as a whole all have a role in building up a child into a healthy, productive adult. Nonprofit organizations like Summer Search can play a pivotal role. A two-time Renewal Awards finalist, Summer Search provides mentorship, college counseling, and experiential opportunities to help students from low-income families achieve the skills and the confidence to succeed. This year, the education-focused organization is in the running for the Youth Empowerment prize.

Antonio V. Brown is Summer Search’s equity, diversity, and inclusion coordinator. He told us about Summer Search’s commitment to serving its students, who come from a diversity of backgrounds, and to help its staff “engage in conversations about race, power, and privilege.” The following is an edited and condensed version of our Q&A. Follow Summer Search on Twitter at @summersearch.

How does Summer Search empower students?

Summer Search is a national nonprofit organization that pairs high school sophomores with professional mentors and offers transformative summer experiences to support students to become college-educated, socially responsible leaders who give back to their families and communities. We believe in the ability of our students to be change-makers. Our mentors cultivate a unique, holistic relationship to support students on their journey, and our summer program experiences enable students to learn more about themselves in different environments that foster the development of the non-cognitive skills necessary to manage the challenges they will face in college and in life.

Tell us about the Summer Search community.

Summer Search works in five regions around the country: the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston, New York, Seattle, and Philadelphia. Our comprehensive program spans seven to nine years, from a student’s sophomore year of high school through their college graduation. Our community is made of passionate students who come from low-income and underserved communities. Ninety-six percent of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch, their median household income is $23,784, and 91 percent are first-generation college students.

How did you start your community work?

Community work has been a part of my life since an early age, from being a big brother to kindergarteners while in 5th grade to serving as a resident advisor for college access programs later in life. I grew up having people who believed in me and gave me opportunities, which wasn’t necessarily the case for many of my friends and family. As I got older, I acknowledged the many ways I had been supported and felt strongly that I wanted to do the same for others.

What inspired you to do this work?

I know from first-hand experience that when you are from a marginalized community, opportunities to better your conditions aren’t often available or visible. Having people who expanded my perspectives and connected me to resources was critical to my own individual success. It also showed me the power of coming together to help one another make progress as a community.

How are you helping to make your community thrive?

Summer Search helps our community thrive by providing socio-emotional support to young leaders as they grow and develop their skillsets. Earning a college degree can be a critical tool for upward economic mobility for our students and their communities. My role is an extension of Summer Search’s organizational commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) efforts and the organization’s articulated commitment to building staff capacity to engage in conversations about race, power, and privilege. I am focused on leading the implementation of Summer Search’s emerging EDI strategy and serving as an EDI resource and partner across the network and peers in our field.

What do you love about your community?

I love our students’ dedication to learning more about themselves and the environments they navigate. Their passion and forward thinking allows them to build a better today and a better tomorrow. Seeing students challenge both themselves and society’s norms serves as a constant reminder not to accept things as they are, but to create and improve wherever we can.

What’s one thing you want outsiders to know about your community?

Outsiders should never doubt the power, intelligence, and abilities of marginalized communities. These communities should not be seen as weak, but as communities that have been systematically disenfranchised; despite all odds, they have found ways to shine and reveal just how powerful they really are.

What leaders inspire you?

I’m inspired by the youth I’ve worked with who always seem to find a way to push forward and grow. Their ability to dream big, combined with the desire to act and create a better world for those around them, has earned my admiration. Often, as we grow older, we become used to and accept the way things are. The young leaders I meet don’t hesitate to challenge the status quo and deepen their aspirations.

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers is the editor of The Renewal Project.