How Oak Park Promise Vows to Improve the Neighborhood
Initiative aims to develop ‘cradle-to-career’ education pipeline to improve odds for children and teenagers
This week, the Greater Sacramento Urban League is returning to its Oak Park roots, first with temporary digs on 3rd Avenue and then, in September, the nonprofit organization founded locally in 1968 will open a satellite office on Alhambra Boulevard. “It’s always been a desire to come and be a part of the Oak Park community once again,” says Program Coordinator Tamika L’Ecluse, who also serves as president of the Oak Park Neighborhood Association.
While the Urban League will continue to provide workforce training and job placement at the new site, the focus will be on reducing deaths among black children. In Sacramento County, African American children are dying at two times the rate of other children, and Oak Park is a high-risk neighborhood. The Board of Supervisors has established a steering committee to reduce these deaths by 10-20 percent by 2020. The Urban League will provide education and other resources to prevent perinatal deaths, sleep-related infant deaths, child abuse and neglect homicides, and third-party homicides of youth, L’Ecluse says.
The Urban League is one of roughly 50 public and private partners in the Oak Park Promise Neighborhood, a 15-year initiative — covering 50 blocks and two square miles — to improve the educational, health, employment and housing opportunities of residents. In addition to the higher infant mortality rate, Oak Park has a higher unemployment rate, lower median household income, lower homeownership, lower literacy and shorter life expectancy than the rest of the city.
The group plans to apply for a $30 million (over five years) federalPromise Neighborhood grant through the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, administered by the U.S. Department of Education. While President Barack Obama proposed a budget request of up to $150 million this grant cycle, the actual allocation in 2016 is $30 million to be split among the 5-7 recipients, according to a representative from the department (future funding will have to be approved by Congress each year). Selections will be announced around December.
Mayor Kevin Johnson announced the ambitious proposal during a kickoff event in July at an overcrowded Guild Theater, a venue managed by his nonprofit community development corporation, St. Hope Academy. Johnson has long advocated revitalizing this neighborhood where he grew up. Plenty of residents appreciate the attention he’s paid to Oak Park as shown during a recent Gather — a monthly food event with live music held near the theater. Attendees swarm Johnson to take his photo and shake his hand.
But with the mayor embroiled in controversy — longstanding sexual abuse allegations and a judge’s recent ruling that he must release certain emails into the public record following a lawsuit he filed against the Sacramento News & Review — and having decided against running for re-election, the baton will be passed to Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg when he assumes office in December. Steinberg has promised to carry the momentum forward.
‘Cradle to Career’
The Promise Neighborhoods program grew out of a 2008 visit Obama made to the Harlem Children’s Zone, an anti-poverty initiative focused on children. The federal government launched an effort in 2010 to prompt similar programs around the country, and has provided funding for new or continuing awards every year since.
Oak Park should have an advantage as Sacramento previously received Promise Zone designation (for a larger area including Oak Park, Del Paso Heights and The Avenues south of Fruitridge Road). In 2015, Sacramento was one of eight new zones selected in the second round (there are now 22 recipients total). “There’s no money from this, but it puts you in a position,” Johnson said during the kickoff event. “You play golf? It tees you up. OK, you play basketball? It’s like an assist.” Neighborhood designation, on the other hand, actually means money.
Oak Park Promise’s “cradle-to-career” approach is designed to support each stage of a young person’s life: prenatal; preschool; elementary, middle and high school; college, internships; employment. Seven target schools have been identified, including five in the St. Hope Charter Schools system and two campuses in the Sacramento City Unified School District.
The campuses must be able to track the progress of students over time, providing data from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, says St. Hope CEO Jake Mossawir. St. Hope can capture a large sample size of Oak Park students, as 4,000 students live in the neighborhood and about 2,000 attend these charter schools, Mossawir says, adding that the other two schools serve another 1,000 children. “About 50 percent actually live in the two zip codes that make up Oak Park,” he says. “For students who live in Oak Park, but who attend schools outside of the borders, at non-target schools, they will still receive resources from the grant, which is a requirement.”
The funding would augment St. Hope’s STEM programs, Mossawir How Oak Park Promise Vows to Improve the Neighborhood | Comstock's magazine: