Celebrating Progress: Five Industry Leaders Making a Real Difference for Young People

2017 POA

A human rights lawyer fighting the injustice of the justice system’s treatment of young people.

A government official and prominent business executive demonstrating leadership in the fight for equity in education and a commitment to service.

A nonprofit leader who’s spent decades giving young people the tools they need to rebuild their communities, and a hip-hop luminary empowering young people today to become leaders of tomorrow.

These are the industry leaders that America’s Promise Alliance will present with the Promise of America awards, the organization’s highest honor, at its annual Promise Night gala and 20th anniversary celebration on April 18.

Along with the Promise of America awards, which honor industries, corporations, foundations or celebrities who reflect the values of America’s Promise, America’s Promise will soon announce a Powell Legacy award winner, an organization that serves as a public model for the Alliance’s work; People of Promise winners, young adults taking the lead in their communities and using their skills to transform the lives of children and youth; and Promise Heroes, the “unsung” heroes around the nation who tirelessly (and more often than not anonymously) support their communities in ways large and small.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of America’s Promise, we’ve been challenging the country to Recommit to Kids; here are five prime examples of what commitment looks like.

Common: Founder of Common Ground Foundation

Best known as a rapper who helped kick off an underground hip-hop movement that gained steam in the latter part of the nineties, as Rolling Stone wrote, Common is also leading the movement to empower young people through his Common Ground Foundation.   

“I always believed that if we started with the youth then we would be planting the seeds for our future to blossom,” Common writes on his website. “Give the children a sense of hope, self-esteem, and love that will better the world.”

With a mission to empower high school students through programs focused on character development, healthy living, financial literacy, and creative expression, the Common Ground Foundation provides underserved youth in Chicago with summer camp, a college readiness program, and workforce development.

Arne Duncan, Former U.S. Secretary of Education, Partner at Emerson Collective

When Arne Duncan served as the U.S. Secretary of Education, he helped highlight the systemic barriers facing young people of color and low-income youth in public education.

His Office of Civil Rights released groundbreaking research on race- and income-based disparities in school funding and how harsh discipline practices unfairly target students of color. Under his tenure, the Department of Education also initiated grants for Promise Neighborhoods, modeled on the Harlem Children’s Zone, which works to end generational poverty for children.

Duncan is now a managing partner at the Emerson Collective, an organization focused on education, immigration reform, the environment, and other social justice initiatives.

Dorothy Stoneman, YouthBuild Founder

In 1978, Dorothy Stoneman asked a group of teenagers in East Harlem a question that would change their lives—and hers: If you had adult support, how would you improve your community?

 “We’d rebuild the houses,” they told her. “We’d take empty buildings back from the drug dealers and eliminate crime.”  

That answer led Stoneman to found YouthBuild, a nonprofit that helps disadvantaged youth earn their GED while working in construction. In the past two decades, roughly 92,000 students have built 19,000 units of affordable housing through nearly 300 YouthBuild affiliates across the country.

Ken Chenault: Chairman and CEO, American Express

Ken Chenault has been widely recognized not only for his leadership of a major company, but also for this commitment to public service.

The Promise of America award will certainly not be his first; he’s received the Phoenix House Public Service Award, the Corporate Responsibility Award from the International Rescue Committee, the Wall Street Rising Leadership Award, and the Hadrian Award from the World Monuments Fund, among others.

Moreover, his stewardship of the Harlem Children’s Zone helped inspire the creation of Promise Neighborhoods and reinforced the power and value of collaboration on behalf of children.

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy Author, Equal Justice Initiative Founder

In his groundbreaking Ted Talk, “We need to talk about an injustice,” human rights lawyer and Equal Justice Initiativefounder Bryan Stevenson spoke out against mass incarceration and its impact on men of color and children of color.

“I represent children,” he says in his talk. “A lot of my clients are very young. The United States is the only country in the world where we sentence 13-year-old children to die in prison. We have life imprisonment without parole for kids in this country.”

He went on to write Just Mercy about his experiences defending the wrongfully accused and how his view on justice evolved, in which he famously quotes author and activist Helen Prejean: “People are more than the worst thing they have ever done in their lives.”

To learn more about Promise Night and our 20th anniversary #Recommit2Kids campaign, visit our website. Members of the media are encouraged to register in advance here