Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood

Portrait of Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood staff

The Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood (SPPN) is a transformative racial justice initiative that puts children on the pathway to college and career success. SPPN brings together families, schools and the community to change the odds for children in the Frogtown, Rondo and Summit-University neighborhoods of Saint Paul. SPPN uses education, advocacy and family stability to ensure that neighborhood children can achieve college and career success. SPPN is a community initiative housed at the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.

A Q&A with Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood

Tell us about your organization. What were some formative moments in your organization’s history as they relate to race?

Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood (SPPN) was born out of a desire to place children on a pathway to college, career and life success, and ultimately, ensure that families in our neighborhood can build a positive future for their children. To put simply, SPPN is a challenge to racial inequity in the education system where children of color fare worse than white children on nearly all indicators of academic success.

The initiative was largely imagined and developed by people of color who call Saint Paul home. Prior to its launch, SPPN was engaged in a community-led planning process. Through ‘solution action groups,’ community members explored a mix of issues and solutions. This process developed the initiative’s focus and helped shaped core aspects of its strategy.

SPPN is committed to addressing racial and economic disparities, specifically the “education debt” where historic public disinvestment in neighborhoods of color has disproportionately resulted in the disinvestment in neighborhood residents as well as schools attended by children of color. We also wanted to shift who and what children in our neighborhood are learning about. To that end, SPPN and its partners infuse cultural ways of knowing, doing and being in all of its programs and opportunities, specifically in the African American, Hmong and Karen cultural communities.

Race plays a critical role in the vision and reality of the Promise Neighborhood because the burden of racial inequity distresses our community. But we reject labels of deficiency that others have put on our children and neighborhood. We are here to make our schools desirable places for our children to attend and our neighborhood a desirable home for our children to return to after they’ve completed college and established careers.

What does this award mean to your organization and to your organization’s work in the racial equity space?

We are thrilled to accept this award on behalf of children and families, as well as partners and staff, in the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood. This award affirms SPPN’s community-led, culturally-responsive and racially equitable approach to issues facing our families. By tackling the issues of systemic isolation (“siloing”) and cultural underrepresentation, SPPN is pushing the field to think and act differently. We hope that more organizations adopt this approach to do the “work” through this lens.

What has been your organization’s greatest challenge?

Because SPPN is based on a collective impact model, we bring together more than 80 organizations to support the success of children and families. We know that we can’t "program" our way out of the seemingly intractable problems that we face. Partners play a critical role in addressing a number of solutions, including family, program, policy and systems levels. Together, we’re able to maximize our resources, streamline processes and amplify our impact on our shared outcomes.

We are very grateful for the many talents and resources partners bring to the table. That said, our values around parent power and uplifting cultural ways of knowing and doing aren't always consistently prioritized by some of the large institutions we work with. One of SPPN’s values is pushing partners to prioritize listening to our community - youth, elders, teachers and parents - on the impacts of communities’ experiences, stories and histories. To us, this is the crux of our work to eliminate racial inequities and ensure that people of color can thrive and be free. We know that those who are closest to the issues are the ones closest to the solutions.

What has been your organization’s greatest reward?

SPPN is engaged in transformative work. It’s amazing to see this transformation take place at the individual, school and neighborhood level. We’ve seen children not engaged in learning because their family is homeless or highly mobile. SPPN will work with their families to ensure they can obtain stable housing and that the children catch up in school through one of our out-of-school time literacy programs. Within weeks, we start to see academic and life transformation. Inequity breaks down our families in destructive ways. SPPN has the privilege of engaging families for the long-haul and experiencing successes along the way. The result is racial equity, and individual, family and community success.

What are your organization’s hopes and goals for the future of anti-racism efforts in this community?

Our hope for the future looks like Promise Neighborhood parents and community members leading the work to reclaim power, culture, schools and the neighborhood. It looks like parents continuing to imagine, work for and achieve the kind of community they want. SPPN is not in the business of delivering services – it is building movement for people of color in the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood to help our children thrive and achieve racial equity.