Sandra LaFleur: Clinton Global Initiative America 2016

We recently sent our very own Sandra LaFleur, Vice President of Program, to the Clinton Global Initiative America 2016 (CGI America). Here is what she learned, in her own words.

Last week, I had the privilege of representing Summer Search as I joined more than 1,000 leaders in business, philanthropy, government and nonprofits at the sixth annual CGI America meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.

The mission of CGI America is to turn ideas into action. To accomplish this, conference participants create and submit Commitments to Action, a defining feature of CGI America, which are concrete plans that address pressing challenges across a variety of sectors in the United States. The workgroup we participated in focused on critical needs in the college and career readiness space.

The focus was broad, the dialogue was stimulating and inspirational and the commitments were bold and specific. Through it all, I was reminded of how our work at Summer Search is crucial to the forward movement of our communities and of our country. This is usually clear for me whenever the topic turns to education in general, but during this conference, the relevance of our work stood even taller as leaders spoke boldly about the impact of equity and equality on our future progress.

A Commitment to Critical Mentoring

It felt validating to hear such dialogue since, prior to arriving at CGI America, Summer Search entered into a Commitment to Action with Dr. Torie Weiston-Serdan of the Youth Mentoring Action Network (YMAN) to build the field of study and practice around critical mentoring.

By the way, if that name and organization sound familiar, it’s because we began connecting and collaborating with Torie and YMAN back in January at the National Mentoring Summit!

Critical mentoring requires integrating and interrogating the context of our youth’s lives so that our conversations with them can be more culturally relevant, creating a space for honesty, insight and critical consciousness of the world within which we live and operate.

Unfortunately, that is a world shaped and influenced by systems of inequity and privilege, and where graduation gaps are widening between White students and students of color, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.*

Despite those sobering statistics, with the support of other partners such as MENTOR and Amped Strategies, we are committed to convening key mentoring and youth development organizations in the coming year to establish guidelines and develop resources for the practical implementation of critical mentoring wherever adolescents are engaged in programming. Ultimately, these resources and tools will be made available to the mentoring and youth development fields.

Voice is such a crucial element of student agency, and to us at Summer Search, there is probably no greater joy than witnessing our students as they tap into and learn the power of their own voices. Critical mentoring enables us to help our students better understand not only the context that has shaped many of their experiences, but also the role they play and power they possess in bringing about change to that very context.

By engaging with our students in honest and critical conversations, we hope to help them achieve a level of consciousness that will prepare them for the ugliness of inequity that still abounds while also inspiring them with the promise of change that can happen once they’re ready to use their voices. Those voices are the ones we are needing to hear – the ones everyone spoke of at CGI America – the ones I am betting on can help bring about true change.