In April, Forward Promise, the national program office of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) focused on improving the health and success outcomes of boys and young men of color (BYMOC), convened its nine (9) grantee organizations, leadership from Forward Promise and RWJF, and industry leaders from the Forward Promise National Advisory Committee (NAC) at the Children’s Defense Fund’s Alex Haley Farm. As shining examples of organizations applying culturally-relevant healing and development practices in their communities, this convening brought together our grantees to learn and exchange stories, best practices, and cultural experiences that can help strengthen our communities, empower our leaders, and provide new tools to help positively affect the lives and trajectories of BYMOC.
In 2017, RWJF, the nation’s largest philanthropy organization focused on building a “Culture of Health” for all communities in America, launched the Forward Promise National Program Office (NPO), a major national investment geared toward improving the health outcomes of middle and high school-aged BYMOC. Through this investment, Forward Promise set out to identify organizations across the country that were leading the way in how they engaged with and developed BYMOC for success. In the months following, Forward Promise awarded nine organizations grants totalling $3.15 million dollars to help enhance their efforts in the field in support of their organizational and programmatic goals. Grantee organizations serve a variety of cultures and ethnicities, and apply culturally-relevant healing practices in their work to address generational and present-day trauma.
Forward Promise envisions a society that supports and empowers BYMOC to heal, grow and thrive through the application of culturally-relevant practices that directly relate to the community being served. We believe that this can be achieved through healthy village-making – equipping community leaders, influencers and institutions to create environments where boys and young men of color are able to heal, grow, and thrive. To facilitate this, the NPO provides strategic support to organizations, advocates, researchers, and youth who are committed to the health and well-being of BYMOC. One way that we do this, particularly with our grantee organizations, is by providing technical assistance to our grantees in four strategic areas: communications, program evaluation, storytelling and documenting program models. As a part of our technical assistance strategy, Forward Promise has partnered with consultants to coach these grantees in each of the four areas.
For the first time, Forward Promise convened all nine of its grantees, it’s technical assistance providers, its full leadership team and its NAC for a week of discussion, collaboration, healing, and reflection. The convening was held at the Children’s Defense Fund’s Alex Haley Farm – the farm of renowned African-American author, Alex Haley. Alex Haley’s work is pivotal as his writings often explored and showcased the history of how racism, slavery, and oppression impacted America and the lives of African-Americans. The spirit of his dedication to storytelling and expression emanated across the farm, and helped amplify the connections, stories, and histories that each of our grantees share with one another. In spending time at the farm, we were able to reflect on its history, what it represents and how it connects us to the work we do everyday.
During the convening, grantees were immersed in two days of discussion, reflection, healing, and cultural exchange , where grantees were able to meet one another and share their experiences and respective cultural approaches to their work. They also had a chance to share their organizational stories, providing the other organizations and Forward Promise core stakeholders a chance to reflect on why they are engaged in their work, tell their communities’ stories and explain the cultural and societal challenges that many BYMOC in their communities face and the ways that they are looking to solve those challenges.
Grantees were also engaged in sessions where Forward Promise leadership and the technical assistance providers were able to coach them on ways to enhance their capacity in the areas of storytelling, program evaluation, communications and documenting program models. These sessions allowed the grantees a chance to better understand how to apply leading best practices into their work to strengthen and maximize their impact.
Our stakeholders were able to better understand the nuanced perspectives and needs of all the communities our grantees serve across the nation. Forward Promise Director Dr. Howard Stevenson presented our evolving Heal, Grow, Thrive framework which grew into a dynamic exchange of thoughts and approaches, allowing us to further refine our model.
Forward Promise looks to further build our nation’s understanding, willingness, and capacity to understand the impact of race and trauma on our communities and BYMOC by equipping our communities with the tools and practices to develop healthier villages and healthier environments for BYMOC to heal, grow, and thrive.
You can find more photos from the convening in the gallery on our Facebook page.