The Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN) started in late 2012 when a U.S. Department of Education federal grant was awarded to four underresourced schools in San Francisco’s Mission District. Our strategy, based on the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City, was immediately put into action: We brought together a cadre of community partners to offer wraparound support services via a two-generation approach of bettering families economically so that students do better academically.
A decade hence, this tried-and-true strategy has showcased measurable results, with our MPN community anti-poverty education initiative having increased everything from kinder-readiness to high school graduation rates in the neighborhood’s low-income Latino and immigrant community.
We realized over time that our Promise Neighborhood model needed to be supported not just by Washington, D.C., but also closer to home by the state of California. So the MEDA team and partners began walking the labyrinthine halls of the capitol in Sacramento; however, it became evident that our sustainability efforts would be far better served by joining forces with other statewide education initiatives aligned with our mission and vision.
Strength in numbers
That’s why in 2017, entities from all corners of California banded together. While we had each been pursuing our own ends, there was the realization that working in silos was not the most effective strategy. So we mobilized, with the adage that there is strength in numbers soon proving true when we formed the California Promise Neighborhoods Network (CPNN).
CPNN and the StriveTogether communities share a robust cradle-to-career, collective impact approach. To further strengthen our efforts, the aforementioned joined forces with two other statewide initiatives: the End Child Poverty Campaign, which is a people-driven, social justice group; and California Forward, which is an excellent example of a strong government initiative. Working in coalition is natural for us all. Our unified tenet is that every child and family should be afforded the opportunity to live and thrive with dignity — no matter their ZIP code.
Joining the coalition have been parent leaders and their families. This created a movement, for parent voices are key.
Because Promise Neighborhoods are locally based collaborative, cross-sector initiatives, it is logical that this approach would continue at the stateside advocacy level. Government at all levels must be held accountable to cost-effective investments and measurable results.
Working in unison meant combatting one inherent challenge: Government officials needed to be brought up to speed on the power of a holistic model, as they are accustomed to groups working in silos. Thankfully, we have broken down barriers over time.
Successes to date
MPN and coalition members had evidenced many successes even before the pandemic. When COVID-19 hit and presented unprecedented challenges, the City of San Francisco and its school district reached out to MPN to help with everything from emergency relief funds to setting up food pantries. This assistance was urgently needed, as the Latino community comprised frontline essential workers living in overcrowded conditions, with many others having lost their income due to job loss. At just 15% of the city’s population, Latinos have always showcased more than 40% of positive COVID-19 cases.
Our counterparts across the state were also called upon to assist with meeting the emergency needs of their local communities. The good news is that we had all built the civic infrastructure needed for a coordinated response, in alignment with City and school district priorities. An ecosystem of support was long entrenched, with schools and early learning and care centers serving as community hubs.
A look ahead
No low-income community of color should ever be disproportionately affected by a crisis, whether that be another pandemic, an earthquake or climate change. If we are to devise and implement true equitable recovery, it is vital that this work be institutionalized not just at the federal level, but also at the local and state levels.
These cross-sector initiatives reflect investment in historically low-income communities — the very communities that were hit hardest by COVID because of a legacy of pre-existing economic and health injustices. Promise Neighborhoods provide a coordinated response to legacies of inequity in our country, which is why they are a model to be replicated across the nation.
Mobilizing a statewide coalition is the way to make this happen sooner rather than later.