An Appetite for Service

A youth-led discussion on philanthropy, education, and youth voice with CityBridge Founders David and Katherine Bradley.

David and Katherine Bradley will receive a Promise of America award on April 18.
David and Katherine Bradley will receive a Promise of America award on April 18.

On the surface, it may not seem like KiKi Gilbert has much in common with David and Katherine Bradley. Gilbert is a freshman at Princeton University, majoring in political philosophy with a focus in critical race theory.

The Bradleys are prominent philanthropists with a successful track record in business; David Bradley founded the Advisory Board Company in 1979, and in 1994 he and his wife Katherine Bradley co-founded CityBridge Foundation, which works to create new schools to better serve students of color and students in poverty.

Despite these differences in age and occupation, Gilbert and the Bradleys each maintain a strong commitment to service. Gilbert has worked with Communities In Schools and has organized hunger drives, educational panels, and mentoring programs for hundreds of low-income students of color. CityBridge Foundation schools are designed specifically for equity, helping students overcome barriers of poverty and race to reach their full potential.

America’s Promise Alliance is honoring Mr. and Mrs. Bradley for their work with a Promise of America award on April 18, and Gilbert currently serves as an America’s Promise youth trustee. In this Q&A, Gilbert asks the Bradleys about the challenges and rewards of philanthropy, their commitment to service, and what they see changing in education that excites them. Check out their answers to Gilbert’s questions below:

1. You have demonstrated a deep commitment to service and philanthropy in your careers. What led you to start the CityBridge Foundation?

CityBridge got started when we noticed an appetite for service in the ranks of our own employees at the Advisory Board. CityBridge’s first name was even the Advisory Board Foundation. Across time, as our employees got more and more involved in the city, we realized we should apply our core enterprise-wide skills in best practices research to some of the issues faced by citizens in Washington. But how we really got started was in following the lead of our own employees.

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2. Based on your work in D.C., what is the biggest barrier that children and youth face to getting a quality in education? Are those challenges unique from other cities or regions?

In Washington, we are blessed with many schools succeeding brilliantly—both academically and in terms of providing the social supports that children need. Our problem is quantity—we just don’t have enough of those schools for all children. In D.C., our population is also growing, so we are playing catch-up, trying to improve the schools we have while opening enough excellent new ones to serve all children.

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America’s Promise Youth Trustee KiKi Gilbert

3. Young people have their own ideas too. Do you incorporate youth voice and perspectives into your decision making? If so, what approaches have been most successful?

Student agency has become more than just a watchword—it’s also a very smart way to redesign classrooms, giving students voice and control over the pace and path of their own learning. Part of our school

design process even includes “shadow a student” day. Adults immerse themselves in the school day of a real student, seeing through the student’s eyes what the actual struggles and joys of a typical school day are.

4. Your model focuses on the design of breakthrough schools. What are some the innovations happening in education right now that you find exciting? What direction would you like to see education move in the future?

At the highest level, the most exciting innovation is around personalized learning—redesigning the classroom so that children receive what they need, when they need it, in ways tailored to meet their unique skills and interests. This innovation does not replace great teachers—it actually adds the power of technology and data to great teaching, which makes a very powerful combination.

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5. What keeps you doing this work? Are there any stories or moments from CityBridge that come to mind that inspire and encourage you to keep giving back?

It takes a long time to see progress in education, and for many people that’s hard. But we’ve been at this for more than a decade, so we’ve been able to see the needle move—both for the city we love and for many individual students who are now college graduates, launched into meaningful careers and lives. That makes it all worth it.

For more of KiKi Gilbert’s work, read her essay, After Charlottesville, A Painful Reminder. For more information on our awardees, check out our Promise Night homepage and read our conversation with Northside Achievement Zone CEO Sondra Samuels, A Two-Generation Approach.