We met up with Nekosi Nelson who is Director of Partner Engagement for DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative DCPNI, to learn more about his vision for the partnership and how we, together, are creating a lasting impact for the families of this Washington D.C. community.
1. Why did you decide to join the efforts of DCPNI?
My decision to join DCPNI was centered the organization’s holistic approach to education and community development. DCPNI is hub and anchor of an innovative collaboration focused on the development of young people and understands that families and communities are extremely impactful in their lives.
As the Director of Partnership Engagement, I’m responsible for bringing together non-profits, local organizations, government agencies and other stakeholders to yield innovative solutions to social challenges through reciprocal relationships, shared vision, collective action, and joint accountability. Before transitioning to education ten years ago, I worked in investment banking and realized I wanted to pursue a more fulfilling career where I could see an impact of my work and help young people reach their dreams and goals the same way I was able to.
2. What is DCPNI’s vision for the young people of Kenilworth-Parkside?
Essentially, we would like to end inter-generational poverty in local and national communities. For Kenilworth-Parkside, we want to help young people discover and cultivate their potential. It’s vital that DCPNI becomes a consistent resource from birth and well into college. We want all our young people to become lifelong learners and dream beyond their lived day-today realities. Of course, our efforts will be successful if we support children and the parents to succeed and help build a thriving, healthy and safe community.
3. As a partner, what contributions do you feel Mentor Foundation USA has made to help uphold the mission of DCPNI?
Our partners should demonstrate a genuine investment in youth and commitment to empowering local communities. We expect our partners to come with a strength-based mentality and a willingness to share knowledge. We want them to be committed to sharing their best practices within the partner network and community and understand they are part of a network of services and supports. By sharing insights and helping to create a shared vision, they are creating opportunities for families and residents that will have a sustainable impact.
Mentor Foundation USA and DCPNI share a commitment to the youth at Cesar Chavez. This is evident is the presence of the organization beyond traditional programming. Mentor Foundation really understands the DCPNI philosophy and they have a willingness to work and engage with other partners. I really appreciate the organization’s ability to hold DCPNI accountable and initiate honest discussions around their expectations and opportunities to improve our collective work.
4. Why does DCPNI value mentoring?
In my opinion, mentoring is the most personal form of development and connects with youth on a relational level. The relationship between a mentor and a mentee is both social and emotional and helps young people realize they have a support system of people with whom they can trust and connect. There is a level of honesty and transparency about academic or personal conflicts that mentees exhibit with their mentors. Mentors are positioned to offer unbiased guidance and help mentees navigate decisions that will have long term impacts. Mentors have the added value of introducing their mentees to real-world professional experiences that serve as an important reference point for young people as they explore the possibilities of their own lives.
5. What do you think are some key essential components in ensuring that all young people have access to a high-quality education?
In order to provide young people access to high-quality education, the schools need to have a college-going culture and mindset and believe in the ability of all young people to succeed. After-school programs and enrichment activities are essential to provide young people opportunities to connect/apply their learning to career pathways and develop critical 21st century life skills. Schools must be able to offer personalized services that are geared towards social and emotional growth. Additionally, schools need robust community and family engagement that focuses on connecting families and communities to partner organizations and resources that further support the holistic development of young people.
Mentor Foundation USA has been a partner with the DC Promised Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI) since 2011. The partnership started when Mentor Foundation’s founder, Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden met with Irasema Salcido who is the founder of DCPNI and the Cesar Chavez Schools. They discussed the need for many youth in the Kenilworth-Parkside community of DC to have ongoing support and resources to help them achieve their full potential.
There was synergy between Mentor Foundation USA’s mission to use mentoring as a vehicle to prevent substance abuse in youth and DCPNI’s vision of being a holistic pipeline of services to support all members of the Kenilworth-Parkside community in realizing their innate capacity to improve the quality of their own lives and inspire positive change in their neighborhood and the world.
Our collective work began with a mentoring program for 9th graders who attended Cesar Chavez School for Public Policy’s Parkside campus within the heart of the DCPNI footprint. Since 2011, over 60 youth have been matched with a caring professional mentor who has served as a champion, a coach or even an advocate. In addition to having a mentor, the students in the program have also visited various corporations in Washington DC who have opened their doors to expose them to various career opportunities. The students have also participated in ongoing educational opportunities, like the Shattering the Myths Youth Rally hosted by Mentor Foundation USA.