Fulfilling the Promise

“Know that you belong,” Richmond native Ebony Lewis told hundreds of college-bound high school seniors at Richmond Memorial Auditorium Wednesday night.

“There will be moments when you tell yourself, I shouldn’t be here. I can’t do this. How did I get here?” said Lewis, the executive director of undergraduate admissions at UC Davis.

She warned about plenty of moments when students will doubt themselves.

“My point is, you belong at your college just as much as anyone there. Can we agree to that?”

The students responded to Lewis with a resounding “Yes.”

At that moment — and in many others Wednesday night —  the auditorium filled with confidence and optimism. It was yet another victory moment for the growing Richmond Promise, which on Wednesday celebrated another 481 local college scholarship recipients, all high school seniors from Richmond and North Richmond.

These students were now armed not just with scholarships that will make college more affordable, but also a growing support system that has never before existed at this level in Richmond.

Established in 2014, the Richmond Promise provides $1,500 annually as well as a support system to every high school senior in Richmond and North Richmond headed to a 2-year or 4-year college or university, or a Career Technical Education Program. The program was launched by a $35 million investment from a $90 million community benefits agreement between the city of Richmond and Chevron, connected to the $1 billion Refinery Modernization Project.

This year, the third for the Richmond Promise, over $2.45 million were given to local students attending over a dozen schools. Previous years helped send about 550 Richmond students to 79 colleges and universities across the country. The Richmond Promise not only provides funds, but has established itself as a support center that reaches students as early as 9th grade, and continues offering services to scholarship recipients until they graduate from college.

Video: Jessie Stewart, executive director of the Richmond Promise

Jessie Stewart, executive director of the Richmond Promise, says she’s optimistic about the program’s growth toward inspiring a college-going and “college-success” culture in Richmond.

The program guides high school seniors through the process of applying for financial aid. But the outreach extends well beyond. It has a near peer ambassador program where college students come back and do small group mentoring with Kennedy High ninth graders. It has also developed a college scholars campus network at UC Berkeley and UC Davis, where Richmond students can benefit from mentorship services. The program also established partnerships with West Contra Costa Unified School District and Contra Costa College to create pathways of support.

During the upcoming summer school, the Promise is bringing its near-peer ambassador program to DeJean and Helms middle schools, where 10 college students will assist in classroom-based instruction aimed at breaking down barriers to college access early.

Video: Richmond Mayor Tom Butt

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, who along with Councilman Jael Myrick was crucial in establishing the Promise, said he believes the program will transform Richmond.

“This Promise program is one of the most exciting things I’ve done in over 23 years as a city council member and mayor,” he said.

Patty Canessa, public affairs manager at Chevron Richmond and a founding member of the Promise board, said she’s thrilled to see the program helping so many students reach their college and career goals.

“Education is one of the fundamental pillars of Chevron’s social investment strategies,” Canessa told scholar recipients on Wednesday. “You should feel proud about your accomplishments so far, and optimistic about all that you have left to accomplish.” For more information about the Richmond Promise, visit its website. You can find its Facebook page here.

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