“One life, but we’re not the same
We get to carry each other, carry each other
Lyrics from “One”, U2
In the late 1970s, four Dublin bandmates known as Feedback were told by their priest that they could not pursue both their faith and rock music. Thankfully, they did not heed that advice. Those musicians, known today as U2, saw a different path for success. For over four decades, U2 has found a way to impart their faith journey to the music world and to impart their iconic rock anthems to people of faith. Each member of the band has used his unique gifts to bring attention and relief to the injustice, hurt and social issues of the day.
Four years ago, the greater Atlanta community – education, business, philanthropy, non-profit and government – decided that improving outcomes for almost one-third of Georgia’s 1.8 million students required the collective action of all. Despite being told by skeptics that the superintendents in the five core Atlanta counties would not work together, that business and educational objectives were incompatible, and that government would guard its own turf, community leaders chose not to listen to those skeptics. Learn4Life Metro Atlanta (L4L) was born.
While L4L is still in its infancy, the steady guiding hand of the leadership team and the momentum and enthusiasm of all who are engaged in the work represents a transformational shift in the way Atlanta stakeholders invest in its youth. These stakeholders, many of whom were never expected to work with one another because of their points of impact or geography, are finding that “while we’re not the same” we are one. Our respective fates hinge upon each other. We are one bound by a common belief that through the collective actions of many, stronger outcomes for our youth are possible.
While it is always appropriate to celebrate successes and to offer thanks for the progress made on behalf of our youth as we did on the morning of May 6th, it is important to remember that we are running a marathon and not a sprint. Our work is without end. In a world where change is the order of the day, each new class of preschoolers will require the nurturing and support of an adaptive and caring learning community. I am reminded of three lessons acquired during my involvement in educational policy and governance:
First, Jim Collins, in his monograph Good to Great and the Social Sectors, opines that work in the social sector is not a simple transfer of business concepts to the nonprofit sector. Rather, it is both sectors jointly embracing a language of greatness. Financial resources are only one input to achieving greatness. Leadership requires exercising both legislative and executive skills. Measuring results requires rigorously assembling both quantitative and qualitative data as evidence to track our progress. As we continue the work of L4L, may we practice together and learn from each other so that the consequences of our actions create a culture of greatness for each of us individually and corporately, but—more importantly—for the children we serve.
Second, let us follow the wisdom of Geoffrey Canada, founder and former CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ). Canada stated that the driver for change at HCZ was the conclusion that (a) the outcome that ultimately matters most is the percentage of young adults who finish college or get a good job, and (b) moving the needle on this long-term outcome is beyond the reach of any single organization, no matter how good its programs. Through this early part of the L4L journey we have been careful to do just that. We have organized ourselves to take advantage of the strengths that each organization and individual brings to the work. We are learning that it is okay, liberating even, to know that no one organization or school system can move the needle. We are learning to trust each other. Paraphrasing Bono and U2, we know we’re not the same and we have to carry each other to strengthen outcomes for our youth.
Third, we need to remember that developing stronger youth outcomes is neither a simple nor an overly complicated exercise. Instead, the work of L4L is one of complexity. Raising a child cannot be reduced to a repetitive task or a formula, yet there are best practices we can learn from others and use with the children we serve. The opening line to “One’ asks the question “[i] is getting better?” Thanks to L4L, we can answer with a resounding yes. We can truly carry each other.
Brad Bryant is Vice President of REACH Georgia, the State of Georgia’s first needs-based mentorship and college scholarship program. Brad also serves on the L4L Core Team.