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‘Bubbling Up From The Community’: Experts Discuss Fight Against Intergenerational Poverty at HGSE Talk

The Harvard Graduate School of Education's EdRedesign Lab hosted an event about fighting intergenerational poverty Thursday evening.
The Harvard Graduate School of Education's EdRedesign Lab hosted an event about fighting intergenerational poverty Thursday evening. By Addison Y. Liu
By Veronica H. Paulus and Lenny R. Pische, Contributing Writers

Students and experts discussed “cradle-to-career” initiatives in a conversation about “promise cities” and fighting intergenerational poverty hosted by the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s EdRedesign Lab Thursday evening.

The discussion, which took place in Winthrop House’s Junior Common Room, featured EdRedesign Lab visiting fellows Libby B. Schaaf and Richard Raya. It was moderated by former Harvard Undergraduate Association Co-President Travis Allen Johnson ’24 and HGSE student Shilpa K. Bhongir.

Schaaf, the former mayor of Oakland, discussed the Oakland Promise, a project she launched that — by the end of her time in office — provided every newborn in low-income families with a $500 college savings account at birth and every low-income public school graduate with a $1,000 yearly scholarship while pursuing higher education.

“I have always believed that if we could do one thing to make the world a better place, to make our cities a better place, to make society more fair, it would be that every child got a great education,” Schaaf said. “And that belief is definitely what motivated me to start the Oakland Promise.”

“I think cradle-to-career is the point of entry for effective, collective impact,” she added.

Raya, the chief strategy officer for the Mission Economic Development Agency, formed a network approach within local low-income neighborhoods. He said Mission Promise Neighborhood, launched under the Education Department’s Promise Neighborhoods project, aims “to create a collective impact approach to improving academic outcomes in communities.”

“I’m hoping that this type of work can also become a healing journey for our country, in terms of just creating a more collaborative system, a more child-centered system, a more family-centered system,” he added.

In an interview following the event, Rob C. Watson Jr. ’09, the deputy director at EdRedesign and a lecturer at HGSE, said he hoped the discussion prompted attendees to think more about inequities in education.

“The spirit of tonight is for students to be in conversation with some of the best leaders in the country, leveraging collective impact and cross-sector cradle-to-career collaboration to create population-level change for children, youth, and families,” he said.

Melanie M. Armella ’24, an attendee of the event, said she learned “how much collective action matters and how important each and every one of us is to creating the system that we want to live in.”

When asked in an interview after the event how efforts to advance educational opportunities have changed in the past few years, Raya said he has positive expectations for neighborhoods around the country.

“I do think that efforts are picking up, actually, and I feel like there is growing momentum,” he said. “I think it’s bubbling up from the community, it’s bubbling up from national associations, national communities of practice in this work.”

For Schaaf, the importance of cradle-to-career initiatives stems from her experience growing up in Oakland, which she called “a city of tremendous disparities.”

“I always say falling in love with Oakland makes you fall in love with the world,” she said in an interview following the event. “It makes you fall in love with humanity because you feel like all of humanity is there within your city.”

Correction: December 4, 2023

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Richard Raya launched Mission Promise Neighborhood. In fact, the Mission Economic Development Agency launched Mission Promise Neighborhood before Raya was an employee.

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