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Behind JSF’s Mandate of Service: The Individuals Who Serve

She was too choked up to talk. I couldn’t see her face because I was sitting behind her on the stage. I really wasn’t sure if she would stand at the podium in silence, fighting to catch her breath or ramble for ten minutes. Either way it wouldn’t matter. She had the undivided attention of everyone. It was not for the promise of an inspiring message, nor the VIP status bestowed on her at the event. Neither the highest-ranking public official nor the gifted keynote speaker would come close to garnering the focus of the students in the audience as she would. She commanded the grateful reverence of those in attendance because of the genuine relationships she had built with them over the years, and you could see it on their faces.

a woman standing at a lectern with a man in the background behind her

Wanda Kirby, who is retiring from the Palm Beach County School District, receives a hand with lowering her microphone from colleague Gbolade George during the Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children graduation ceremony earlier this month in suburban West Palm Beach, Florida. Photos by Coastal Click Photography.

Wanda Kirby had served these disadvantaged high school students through the Palm Beach County School District’s Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children Program, and many of them had reached this graduation milestone because of her work. Tonight, she was retiring.

Foundation work can sometimes feel removed from the people we serve. The stewardship of our organization through committee service, letters of inquiry, applications and reports does not directly connect us to the individuals we serve … but the Wandas do.

It’s a common denominator we find in many of our grantee partners – individuals whose personal investment is almost immeasurable, except in terms of graduations, college acceptances, job offers, and personal growth of the young people they’ve assisted.

I think of Dr. Leslie Pendleton, who leads University of Florida’s first-generation student success program. She knew that first-generation students needed guidance not for their academics but for life outside the classroom.

Paul J. Adams III, executive chairman and founder of Providence St. Mel School, says “It’s not rocket science” about the success of the 42-year-old school on Chicago’s west side. Maybe not rocket science, but an undying commitment to high expectations, accountability, strong curriculum and good instruction.

J. Curtis Warner, Jr., was the founder and architect of the Berklee College of Music City Music Program. The program brings inner-city middle and high school students from Boston to Berklee for a collegiate experience and mentoring. The program is now being replicated around the country.

Our partnerships with grantees link us to the people we serve. Our work is most effective and fulfilling when we view it through the lens of that service to people.

The work of Wanda Kirby, Leslie Pendleton, Paul J. Adams III, J. Curtis Warner, Jr. and so many others reflects JSF’s mandate of serving disadvantaged people at its best. In the JSF family, we have all had the experience of seeing first-hand the fruit of that service.


Bobby Krause is CEO of Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

Summer Youth Program Empowers Students to Confront Important Social Justice Issues

City Music, Berklee’s youth development and outreach program, delivers tuition-free, high-quality contemporary music education to young people in grades 4-12 who are from underserved communities.

Man singing at berklee city music social justice

This summer, City Music students used creativity to tackle social justice issues. JSF has been a supporter of this program. Photos by Mike Spencer.

During this past summer, City Music brought together 15 at-risk teens, who were referred by the City of Boston’s Department of Youth Engagement and Employment, for a summer of learning and self-actualization. These students, most of whom were new to music and the program, were tasked with exploring prevalent social justice issues through small group discussions, activities for connecting, sharing and self-reflection, and research. Students chose topics they felt were important and formed groups around those issues. Former City Music students, now Berklee college students, facilitated the groups.

At the end of the summer, the young people performed onstage before an audience of peers, as well as adults. They used their original music, spoken word performances and song arrangements to express their personal stories and experiences on prejudice, racism (structural oppression), body image, bullying and peer pressure. After each presentation, the audience was asked thoughtful questions to prompt discussion.

Woman holding a sign reading "if you aren't angry you aren't paying attention"What had transpired between the first day and the last was amazing. On the outset, some students were quick to react—to anyone’s words, a situation or in discussion. Some students preferred talking over listening (and vice-versa). However, as students began researching the social justice issues using the iceberg model (M. Goodman, 2002), they began to see how they could use this same analysis to everyday things.

This systematic approach teaches students to go beyond the “tip” or the visual part of the iceberg to become aware of the many causes that can feed into an issue (or what is beneath the water’s surface that is unseen and needs to be chipped apart for examination). The iceberg model has five levels, from top to bottom: 1) an easily seen event or incident happens and is a symptom of a bigger problem, 2) similar events happen again and again, 3) physical barriers, policies, rituals and organizations enable events to happen, 4) conscious and unconscious thoughts drive people’s behavior and 5) society’s core beliefs and values either shape or constrain people’s assumptions and behavior.

Man singing with another man holding a trombone This process helped students to broaden their perspectives beyond themselves and consider other student’s opinions. They began to understand how individual backgrounds and experiences—good and bad—can influence those ideas, which may be different from their own. Rather than taking everything at face value and responding in a reactive, confrontational mode, they stopped and reflected on what was going on behind the words and actions. All of this helped build empathy and compassion, empowering students to share their thoughts, words and emotions and to self-express in their art. Finally, this understanding enabled meaningful participation that let students feel hopeful that their voices were being heard, as well as understood, formally on-stage and informally in everyday life.