Antonio Brown: Claim Excellence
Claim excellence is a core value at Summer Search. As you walk through our offices, you see these words written on the walls as a reminder of this commitment to our communities.
Summer Search is a national youth development organization, founded in the Bay Area in 1990. Today, we serve 3,400 students annually in the Bay Area, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Seattle. We make a long-term investment in our students, connecting them with relationships and opportunities that promote mindsets and behaviors to help our students graduate from college as socially responsible leaders. Through our reflective mentoring approach, Summer Search asks our students to self-reflect in pursuit of excellence; and it’s a practice we embody as staff, too.
As Summer Search grows, we continue to claim excellence by intentionally critiquing and developing our work. We ask ourselves: How do we do our work better? What do our communities need and how can we be more responsive to those needs? This year, the answer includes our Males of Color Initiative, which emerged to address the reality that Black and Latino young men are not applying and persisting in our program at the same rate as other demographic groups. One goal of the Males of Color Initiative is to maintain gender parity in our program from start to finish.
We Are Not Willing to Leave Our Young Men of Color Behind.
In Fall of 2015, with a generous contribution from AT&T Aspire, we launched the Males of Color Initiative to enhance our student outreach practices by engaging alumni, parents, and community-based organizations as partners so more young men join our program and stay engaged to reach their college dreams.
summer-search Rigoberto Lara is an alumnus now living in Brooklyn, NY. He is an artist and manages Crowing Rooster Arts, a social justice minded film and art studio.
As we considered the most appropriate program enhancements for engaging young men, it was essential that we continue using data to inform our design. We started with an analysis of students who are nominated to and apply to our program and learned that more nominated female students were applying to our program than nominated male students.
Then, we reviewed our entire recruitment pipeline and learned that a substantial number of students who are exposed to Summer Search (through our formal nomination process or by attending an information session) do not move forward with applying. This lack of program uptake is especially pronounced for males. These two findings emphasize the need to focus on better supporting male students of color, and their families, through the application process.
We continued our research with the communities we serve, and collected data from nearly 700 individual stakeholders including alumni, students, parents, and partners from referral organizations.
We learned a lot, especially from our superstar alumni, who shared through focus groups and structured interviews that they are eager to give back to Summer Search by connecting directly with students and families to help steward them through the recruitment process. Summer Search alumni are college graduates, entrepreneurs and academics, elected officials and Summer Search mentors. The 2,500 Summer Search alumni across the world share an orientation toward social justice and a desire to give back as socially-responsible leaders.
Donaciano Botello Torres is an alumnus who now works as a Summer Search mentor in the Bay Area.
Alumni involvement was especially important given the recent research from Dr. Bernadette Sanchez, Mentoring for Black Male Youth, that emphasizes how connecting Black male youth with mentors who have shared life experiences can promote Black boys’ positive outcomes and promote trust in a youth-serving program.
We Asked Alumni How They Want to Be Engaged in Summer Search.
Here’s what we learned:
1. Alumni want to give back to Summer Search. They’re grateful for the relationships and experiences they built through Summer Search and want other young people to have the chance to crack open their view of themselves and the world.
2. Alumni desire substantive and meaningful engagement. They shared reflections on the depth of conversations they had with their mentors. So for them, the chance to connect with prospective and current students is similarly significant.
3. Alumni are busy. Any opportunities to engage alumni as volunteers need to be flexible.
Robert Reffkin has been named one of Fortune Magazine’s “40 under 40”, was the keynote speaker at the 2015 National Alumni Summit, and was recently featured in the New York Business Journal for his work bringing Summer Search style mentoring to his real estate company, Compass, which he founded.
The key takeaway: we must create flexible, meaningful opportunities for alumni and prospective students to connect. We developed a new student outreach component where alumni — college graduates and males of color themselves — will call prospective Black and Latino male students at critical milestones during our recruitment process to keep them engaged, enthusiastic, and supported.
Alumni calls to prospective students, and the other enhancements in the Males of Color Initiative, will launch this fall, when the next class of leaders will have the chance to claim excellence at Summer Search. We look forward to having our alumni, staff, and the entire Summer Search community alongside each of them, every step of the way.