The History and Hope of Promise Neighborhoods

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Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), spoke at a recent policy forum at the US Department of Education about how the principles of his work in Harlem can be applied in neighborhoods around the country.  HCZ is a holistic approach to rebuilding a community so that its children can stay on track through college and go on to success in the job market. The program inspired the creation of Promise Neighborhoods, a US Department of Education initiative that supports projects designed to create a comprehensive continuum of education programs and family and community supports—with great schools at the center.

“This is complex and complicated effort,” said Canada about HCZ and Promise Neighborhoods, “but it absolutely can be done in other communities. There is no magic. It’s just hard work.”

Canada was introduced at the event by Heather Higginbottom, Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, who described the initial development of the Promise Neighborhoods program during the 2008 presidential campaign.

“The charge from then-Senator Obama was to develop a response as sophisticated and holistic as the problem, and education has to be at the center of this work ,” said Higginbottom. “We will not have a chance to break the cycle of poverty if we are not empowering young people and their families.”

Following remarks by Higginbottom and Canada at the policy forum, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Jim Shelton presented the Federal framework for Promise Neighborhoods and the first cohort of grantees.  San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, who supported the successful Promise Neighborhoods application serving the Eastside of San Antonio, addressed the role of local government in building the infrastructure to support the Promise Neighborhoods strategy.  Dreama Gentry, Director of the External Programs at Berea College in Berea, KY, which also received a planning grant to serve three counties in rural Appalachia, discussed Promise Neighborhoods in rural communities and with institutions of higher education as the lead organization.

The video of the event includes the remarks of all the presenters at the Policy Series, including several questions from Department of Education staff and Promise Neighborhoods grantees, who attended the event as part of their project directors conference in Washington, DC.

In September, Secretary Arne Duncan announced that 21 nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher education received Promise Neighborhoods planning grants. With the one-year grants, the recipients will create plans to provide cradle-to-career services that improve the educational achievement and healthy development of children.

Following the announcement of the 21 planning grantees, Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton recognized a broader movement across the country that includes thousands of communities engaged in the important work of building great schools and strong support systems for children and youth. Read Shelton’s blog post.

View photos from the event.

To learn more about Promise Neighborhoods, visit the program website:

Click here for an accessible version of the first video.
Click here for an accessible version of the second video.
Click here for an accessible version of the third video.