To Be or Not to Be Greater


As I wait, tired yet excited, in an AMTRAK train, I look at my phone and it says “4:40.” It is morning time and I have my first Trustee Meeting in DC. I close my eyes for a few seconds. I look again: “7:00.” I look around and realize that the train has not moved. We are still in Philadelphia. As I hear the news that there is something wrong with the train’s engine, I begin to ponder: will I ever make it?

Yes. Ironically, I spent my first trustee meeting mostly in a train and a good half an hour actually at the meeting.  So with that said, I will with the following a) express my sentiments towards the Alliance and b) entail my personal expectations.  First and being completely honest, the time I spent at the meeting was enough; seeing the amount of people in the room, seeing that these were indeed the leaders of their respective organization was enough. It was.

From the little I saw, it brings me great hope that these organizations — like City Year and Communities in Schools Inc.— are in the same room, under the same cause. When one begins to envision the potential, the capacity of these organizations — that have a nation-wide presence — one begins to realize that there is potential for innovative action. For example, one of the items discussed pertained to how 7.5 million students across the United States miss 10 percent of the school year. Even worse, their absences are not being noticed or acted upon due to the data and overall lack of oversight.

Now, the question comes to mind: how can these groups join efforts towards reducing this number? The answer: the opportunities are endless. Groups like Teach for America, Big Brother and Big Sister, and even, the Foster Care Alumni of America could truly join forces towards attacking this problem collectively. This can range from sharing best practices towards going as far as targeting specific cities and creating unified strategies. Understandably, these groups have their specific and ongoing agendas. However, can we really say that the collective impact of several of these organizations is subordinate to that of individual efforts?

The reason why I strongly emphasize collaboration when I am talking about the America’s Promise Alliance (it seems self-evident doesn’t it?), is because from what I could see at the meeting, there seems to be a need to unite collective yet specific efforts. My point here simple: will meeting three times a year and attending one summit really unite efforts to one day end the dropout rate? The answer is unclear because this is a growing Alliance.  

However, one thing is pretty clear: the dropout problem will not fix itself. For this reason, when I say we need stronger and more unified efforts, it is not because I doubt the efforts or the passion of these organizations. Simply, from what I saw at the end of the meeting, I believe there can be more intentional ways of fostering understanding, sharing ideas and establishing deeper relationships. The agenda itself is a great testament. There are two rounds of “what’s new and hot in your world.” And then, in the end, there is “reflections on our work together.” Is the irony here evident? How are “we” supposed to reflect on “our work together” when the majority of the time we spend together is spent on our own individual agendas?

The reason why I applied to be a Youth Leader was because I truly believe in this Alliance. I believe that all of these individual organizations together can do something unprecedented: they can not only bring light to the silent dropout crisis but collectively work to end it. However, what I saw in this last meeting did both concern and excite me. I am concerned because time is of the essence and our efforts (from what I saw) can be more unified. I am excited because I see unlimited potential in this Alliance. So unlike my train ride, the question does not really depend on “will we make it?” but rather; will we make it on time?