|Reaching and Empowering All People
In His Own Words: Mark Jackson, Vice President/Executive Director
Mark Jackson, REAP
At our core, REAP is a visionary leadership organization that looks at a problem, and creates lasting solutions. How we’re different from other youth-oriented programs is that we’re not focused on reactionary or intervention approaches. Oftentimes, the work involves putting out fires. While we do some of that, our major focus in inspiring youth “invention” – we want to develop creative minds and nurture young people who are driven to create opportunities for themselves.
Our mission is to be proactively involved to empower and engage youth, families and the community for a better future now. Our goal is to provide proactive leadership, to develop leaders who will be fully engaged to impact the community.
Much of our current work involves students in local schools to provide leadership development. We want to empower students with the identity of being solutionists, on being leaders.
REAP is designed to help address a variety of needs, both from an individual, or personal level, and from a community standpoint. Our work with youth focuses on helping them understand the practical world we live in: to understand how policies are formed, how systems function and their effect on communities. Essentially, we’re growing global thinkers who can see the core issues of any problem, and come up with solutions.
If we can empower students to impact their schools, then we can impact our communities. Our work focuses on helping students do better in school and make sure they are ready for the workforce. The program supplements what students are learning in the classroom with first-hand, real-world experiences that will prepare them to become a future CEO, future elected official, or future educator.
From 1997-2001, REAP was in the schools providing leadership development for students in the Portland area. From there, we took on a more comprehensive approach to serving the community. Our direction focused on certain areas of the community. I’m very fortunate to be part of the founding team for the organization. I’ve seen REAP grow to be a magnet for business leaders, educators, community leaders and elected officials who are rallying around how we can best engage students.
Focus on Policy
The policies set by systems define lifestyles, access to opportunities, and level of influence. Every day, decisions are being made that impacts a kid’s experience in the classroom, and impacts realities in our communities. If we can empower the next generation to understand the interactions between law, institutional power, and how systems implement policy, the more that we can move our communities from being the oppressed, to becoming the solutionist. If we can lift oppression, we can leave the door wide open for opportunity and access in a society where some benefit from privilege, but many more are disenfranchised.
Our goal at REAP is to give kids a toolkit to understand how policy works. If they understand the system, we can encourage them to be self-advocates and work smarter toward changing communities for the better.
Many programs that serve local youth focus are offered after-school, from 3 to 7pm. The emphasis is on reducing criminality. Because we’re integrated in the schools, we’re there for the students before the bell rings.
One of the programs we provide is support for students who are being suspended for classroom behavior issues. This is core to our focus on dropout prevention. It’s effective because we work with students on coursework, and services are offered right on campus.
We focus on underserved segments of school communities. Schools have a “buffet” of programs to help youth succeed, but not all services reach all populations. We work hard not to duplicate services that are already available, and focus on students that are not receiving services.
REAP students and Mark Jackson with Oregon State Economist Tom Potiowsky (left).
Inclusive, Diverse, Effective
Oregon is becoming increasingly diverse. If you really want to see the future of Oregon, go to a third-grade classroom. The average classroom is more minority than white. That’s the future face of Oregon, and that is why an inclusive approach to providing services is so important.
What we have found is that the need for services is not only great in urban areas. The need is increasing in rural and suburban areas. Just because a family is considered affluent doesn’t mean that drugs are absent in the household.
It is unfortunate that resources and services did not follow the demographic shift of people in poverty in our city.
One of the most challenging aspects of our work is getting people to think differently. It’s very rewarding to see kids become inspired and challenged to see their personal potential, beyond their environment. We spend a lot of time on the ground level changing belief systems, smashing stereotypes and dismantling myths. Beyond providing inspiration, our work engages kids to look inside themselves and reconnect with that dream or vision that they’re afraid to share. Too often, young people have to deal with many external factors that eclipse their ability to see their dreams to fruition. We work with many kids whose mindsets have been shaped by educators who harbored low expectations, or parents that are not engaged with their children’s education.
Part of our work is to develop in the kids a vision of what’s possible, and illuminate their creativity and excellence. We tell kids that “Success begins with ‘I” and ends with “we.” You must first believe what’s possible within yourself, and others will be engaged to help you further guide you to your destination. The work we do helps kids, their families and the communities to change their perception, and see themselves in a different light.
Shifting perceptions and changing minds also are a function of the work we do with community leaders, business leaders and policymakers. Our society runs the risk of losing our edge as innovators, because many are stuck in the same old ways to dealing with ever-changing issues. How can we think “out-of-the-box” concerning issues faced by our youth in local schools?
We believe that everyone has potential to learn, to be successful. REAP understands that every culture has capital; every culture has value. Understanding the changing landscape of our communities, we pride ourselves in being culturally competent in reaching communities. We are providing voice to those who normally wouldn’t have access. We provide validation and affirmation for students of color to recognize their potential as emerging leaders.
Colors of Influence :: Summer 2010