The SHS Class of 1993 Equity Fund is a 501 (c) 3 Nonprofit Organization created by the 1993 Sunset High School Graduating Class. We care about justice, we care about each other, and together we work to make a collective impact. We’re better, together.
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Raising Funds for The Blueprint Foundation
Allies In Betterment.
The campaign will focus on raising funds for The Blueprint Foundation to address these specific needs:
A. The immediate need for reliable internet service for optimal remote learning for up to 3 households of students enrolled in the Blueprint program; and
B. The need to procure reliable transportation to and from enrichment events for students and mentors, specifically gifting a 12-15 passenger van to meet current needs and to assist in scaling the program.
The fulfillment of this dual goal requires a $30,000 contribution from the SHS Equity Fund.
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Become a sustaining memberby selecting the option to create a recurring donation via PayPal. Recurring donations help provide stability in our fund’s contributions so recipient organizations or individuals may plan to use funds more effectively. Creating a recurring contribution connects you to our work as a member, and donations can be split up into smaller payments over the year, making it more affordable to participate as well as help us build resiliency into our collective equity fund.
Make a one-time donation to a specific campaign or to the Equity Fund at any time to help us create a positive impact by building opportunities for communities that need it most. Every donation in any amount matters.
Donate Via PayPal:
Write checks to: SHS Equity Fund; Mailing address: SHS Equity Fund, P.O. Box 19475, Portland, OR 97280
All proceeds collected during the campaign timeline (through January 2021) will be placed into a fund for the campaign’s stated goals. Anything collected over our $30,000 goal will also go to Blueprint to help pay working mentors that help run Blueprint’s education programs throughout the year. *Sunset Equity Fund will retain 1% of all funds for non-profit status and all account management fees. All donations are tax-deductible.
Catching Up with Jason Stroman and Blueprint Foundation
On September 12, 2020, the SHS Equity Fund Board met in person to have a socially-distanced conversation to catch up with our classmate and SHS Equity Fund board member Jason Stroman. For an evening, we reconnected after 27 years. We enjoyed having an in-person meeting and learning more about Blueprint and Jason’s commitment to giving back to the community and working to support youth who have been systematically disadvantaged.
So maybe you could start by explaining more about the back story of Blueprint and why how the program was started?
The Blueprint Foundation evolved from a mentoring program that my fraternity brothers and I started 10 years ago. We had just chartered the first Oregon alumni chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., a historically Black fraternity, and were looking for the best way to make an immediate impact in the local community. Our fraternity is a very service-oriented organization, specifically serving the Black community. The 3 cornerstone principles of our fraternity are Brotherhood, Scholarship, and Service. So when contemplating where we could make the most positive impact here in Portland, and seeing the staggering statistics around graduation rates that were amongst the lowest in the country, we felt the schools were a good place to start.
The reporting at the time identified huge disparities in drop out and graduation rates when filtered for race and economic status, especially for African American male students in North and Northeast Portland. As an organization of professional Black men, we felt this would be the most appropriate demographic for us to target with direct mentorship. We partnered with some folks running the Step-Up program at Roosevelt High School and established an affinity group specifically for Black-identified young men to be mentored by Black male professionals.
You mentioned “Step Up”, is that a local organization? How did you partner with them to build Blueprint?
Yeah, so Open School is a local alternative school. They used to have a campus in North Portland that closed a few years ago. They opened a new campus on the east side of town a few years back called Open School East. Step-Up is a program of Open School that serves youth at Roosevelt, Madison, and Franklin High Schools. The program serves students identified coming out of middle school with high-risk factors for not graduation, then provides wrap-around services to those students, including academic support, family engagement, cultural enrichment, and social/emotional support from student advocates and counselors.
So, within that population and with support from Step-Up staff, we established the affinity group for young Black men at Roosevelt High School. We met bi-weekly for a couple of hours after school for group therapy type sessions and activities addressing issues specific to Black men in our community, bringing in professionals from different fields to connect with and mentor the young men. Occasionally we would take them on culturally-relevant outings, such as to the museum when they had exhibits about Portland’s Black History, or to see culturally relevant movies when they came out.
So how did Blueprint grow out of the affinity group work?
The mentoring group was proving to be highly impactful. Through the first 5 years, we boasted a graduation rate of 97% amongst the groups’ participants. We landed a small grant to fund an e-mentoring initiative with Oregon State University to connect college students directly with high schoolers in the group, however, financial resources were sparse for the most part and we felt really constrained with what we could offer. So we started exploring the idea of starting a non-profit so we could go after grant funding to do some bigger scale programming. We secured the services of the talented Dr. Derron Coles to help us with that process and then kept him on as our Executive Director.
Our “blueprint” for the mentoring program was to have discipline-specific programs that would not only connect students to Black professionals but also expose them to careers in fields they likely would not have known of or considered otherwise. We recognized that a major factor in the opportunity gap between BIPOC youth and their more privileged peers is a lack of social capital and networks to establish the connections and experiences they need to open more doors and be more competitive in either the job market or higher education. So we began developing curriculum for about five or six different program areas. Through this process, we learned that there was a significant amount of federal money earmarked by the Obama administration to diversify the green sector. Thus, the first area there was funding for was environmental science, and we established our first discipline-specific mentoring cohort, Grounding Waters. After the first couple of years we added another track, Constructing Careers, with an emphasis on green building, as the future of construction must be geared towards being eco-friendly and sustainable. So, Blueprint’s programs expose youth to these opportunities early on, while also providing the cultural and moral support that they need to develop into responsible citizens, and in many cases, just to be anchored in school.
Can you elaborate on that, needing to keep kids anchored?
What we’re finding for a lot of students, especially BIPOC youth in our current school system, and not just in the inner city but all over, is that if they don’t have something else anchoring them in school, (such as sports, arts, theater, cultural affinity groups, after-school programming, etc.) there’s often little motivation to go to school every day. This is especially the case for students of color who often feel invisible, unacknowledged, omitted, or misrepresented in their school’s curriculum, culturally disenfranchised, and over-disciplined at a grossly disproportional rate to boot. So, having groups like Blueprint and Step-Up that center and affirm BIPOC students’ unique identities and challenges, often serve as the anchor to help keep them grounded in their journey.
Not just in school, but in life too. With so many families having been so dispersed due to gentrification in the last few decades in Portland it feels to many that there are no longer core black neighborhoods like there used to be like 20-30 years ago. So, another positive by-product of what we do is bringing kids from similar backgrounds together from all across the city, helping them to build community, network, and nurture healthy relationships with folks that look like them.
What is the current student demographic that Blueprint is focused on? Is it still high school-aged Black-identified males?
In the first two years, we were still focusing on Black-identified high school males, as that’s how the grants were written up. However, there was great interest and demand that grew from female community members during that time, so in the next biennium, we changed the language in our grant submissions to include and embrace the larger demographic of all priority youth. In addition to becoming coed, we’ve also expanded the age-range of program participants, as family members and community referrals have increased. We currently have kids as young as 4thgrade and as old as college age. It’s been great because within the group, there are these organic things that happen where the older students kind of just take on the younger students, and practice being a big brother or mentor role, and then that carries over into their home life and into their work life and so on.
Younger students are getting fed and in a way that they just aren’t at school and in some cases at home. This is just as critical as the career opportunities and mentoring pieces, just having that community building that happens within the group has been really great to see.
How does your program help students start to help see a future for themselves?
The benefit for students in the Blueprint program is that they are building a positive network of both peers and mentors. They are exposed to college-age student mentors who can give them good direction and advice on real-life stuff that they are able to relate to much better than older adults in their lives. They can also help students explore what they might want to study or what classes to take if they’re interested in a specific field. Additionally, students have access to professional mentors from those different fields. You know, just being able to see people that look like themselves as working professionals or college students helps younger students to make the connection in their minds to think ‘Yeah, that’s a realistic option for me too.’ You know how the saying goes, “You gotta see it to believe it”, or “see it to be it.” We are helping them to see and believe themselves as whatever they want to be in life.
How did students come to find out about Blueprint in the beginning?
Typically, especially in the beginning, I would do a lot of tabling at Back-To-School nights or at other conferences, career fairs, and stuff like that. But in recent years, for the most part, it’s been word of mouth, you know, parents telling their friends what their kids are involved in and how it’s helped them, etc. Not to mention students recruiting their peers as well. We are starting to establish a pretty steady presence on social media, which the mentors help a great deal with as well.
It sounds like participants get a lot out of the Blueprint program by being a mentor too, right?
Absolutely. Most of our young adult mentors are at an age where they’re still building their network and resumes as well. So a lot of our mentors use the experience of mentoring, not only to boost their resume but also build skills that prove helpful in their other work and endeavors.
For example, there was one mentor a couple of years ago who loved what we were doing with youth and decided to become involved. She was dealing with a lot of covert racism and microaggressions in her pre-med program at a local university. She was really getting discouraged, and through mentoring with us she learned about the lucrative opportunities in the trades.
She enrolled in the pre-apprenticeship program with Constructing Hope, a local organization that works with young adults facing barriers getting into the workforce. She ended up graduating at the top of her class, landed an apprenticeship with a local steamfitter’s union, and was able to pay off much of her student debt in that first year. She may have never thought to do this work if she didn’t get that exposure through the Blueprint Mentorship Program.
So how long do your students typically stay involved? Is it like one year or three years? Or what would you say?
That’s a great question. We’re going into our fifth year and almost every student in the last 3 to 4 years has remained involved, even beyond high school. So, we have a group of college-age students that stay active and stay engaged, a few of whom are kind of in the process of preparing to be mentors themselves because ultimately they’ll make the best mentors. That’s part of what we’re trying to build, a mentoring pyramid so to speak. Where we have seasoned professionals mentoring our college-age young adults, who are mentoring the high schoolers, who in turn, are mentoring middle and elementary school students.
The high school students get opportunities to teach and mentor younger students in elementary schools, like when we partner with US Fish and Wildlife to help them implement their Salmon in the Classroom curriculum in the spring. They also teach stations about water quality and riparian zone ecology on Salmon Watch field trips facilitated by World Salmon Council every fall. Elementary kids can learn and see kids that look like them teaching this material and being enthusiastic about STEM, filling another important representation gap experienced in their traditional educational experience.
So, does Blueprint work across the city or do you focus on specific schools in Portland?
While most students in that first cohort came from North Portland, we’ve always served students from across the city. All over Portland, we’ve had families that have moved in the last two years. In fact, this last summer, two families moved from North Portland out to the east side, which is kind of indicative of a trend over the last several years with all the gentrification in the North and Northeast. People just can’t afford to stay there.
There are still a handful of programs that provide great services to the “traditional” black neighborhoods and schools, but if you’re not living in the area, they can often be kind of hard to access. We committed early on to never having location or transportation be a barrier to accessing our programming, thus we’re connecting peers and community members from across town and making sure they still have access to programs, resources, and culturally specific mentoring.
So in terms of scale, where do you see Blueprint going? Have you thought about what you wanted it to look like in five or 10 years?
My goal in the next five years is to build enough bandwidth to implement the other program areas that we envisioned in the beginning. Right now we have programming around environmental science and construction/green building. We also have areas we are developing in healthcare, computer science, and engineering. We are in the initial stages of developing a digital marketing internship program with a local marketing company, as well as establishing our own LLC focusing on Green Infrastructure. The idea is to branch out in areas where one, there’s a major need to diversify and two, there’s a large opportunity for economic growth. The bottom line is that if we can create opportunities for people to be financially independent, then that will mitigate a lot of the other issues that are plaguing BIPOC communities and society in general. Whether it’s graduation rates, crime, civic engagement, or you name it…all students are impacted by limited educational and financial opportunities. Thus we need to connect folks to as many potential career paths as possible.
What are the points you’d say are most important right now for funding, immediately, for the Blueprint organization?
I think our biggest need right now is more reliable, accessible transportation, especially this year, with COVID and everything.
Now that we’ve grown as a program and we have all these youth that want to participate in stuff every week – one of the things we’ve always provided as a service is transportation, to make sure that’s not a barrier. You know, parents are happy to send their kids somewhere on a Saturday morning, but they don’t necessarily want, or are realistically able, to get up at 6 or 7 am to take them there. So, since the beginning, that’s always been my guarantee, we’ll pick your students up, drop them home, and they’re always going to have plenty to eat. Food and transportation are two big factors guaranteed. Especially with the added challenges of the current pandemic. Mentors can’t just pack students in their cars to transfer them around town. Nor can our large group just go out to eat at the buffets as we’d typically do after a Saturday morning outing.
Last week, in the perfect example, we were able to get students out for the day on an activity, but it required me taking multiple trips in our passenger van to drop off small staggered groups and then leaving the mentors to run an activity while I went and got food for everyone. I was happy we were able to get everyone outside, but I was having anxiety all day at the same time, not being as hands-on with the students and mentors as I’m used to.
Mentors are a big part of your program. Are they working or are they volunteering for experience?
Mentors get paid for their time, but it’s not like a job where they get paid every other week. They typically accrue hours and then get one stipend check at the end of the school year. While the original design was to incentivize college students to commit to at least one full academic year, we kept that same format because most of our mentors also work jobs full time and/or have professional responsibilities. Honestly, most of our mentors would probably volunteer their time without monetary compensation, because they value the community we’ve built and the impact they are such a big part of. So, to add value to everything they are doing we provide that stipend at the end of the year. But, you know, it’s nobody’s full-time job to mentor so to build programming activities and that career exposure we partner with a lot of organizations and entities around town, such as the Columbia Slough and Johnson Creek Watershed Councils, Friends of Trees, Colas Construction, Metro, Leach Botanical Garden, Portland Parks & Rec, Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, PGE, World Salmon Council, City of Gresham, and Multnomah County to name a few.
It seems like you have the right type of growing pains like you are hitting some limits because of success, which is exactly the right problem.
Exactly. It’s a great problem to have while trying to grow something. My goal is to accommodate that growth. We’re in the midst of another surge of interest and I haven’t had to recruit very heavily for the last couple of years. Every year there are more people wanting to get involved, which is definitely preferred, having that preemptive interest versus having to pitch or sell it to newcomers.
It’s really a testament to how the students and mentors conduct and represent themselves. We’ve created a culture where folks have become comfortable and expected to hold each other accountable. While out doing restoration work in the neighborhood or rolling into a restaurant over 20 folks deep, I often have people stop and ask what we’re doing, and when I tell them they’re like, “wow, that’s really cool,” because that’s not where their minds would typically drift. For a lot of people their first instinct, when they see 20 black kids in the street, is one of apprehension, fear, or confusion. Then they find out they’re part of a program serving the community and building future leaders. So another by-product is that we are helping to break down stereotypes that many still harbor regarding BIPOC youth.
It seems then twofold. Not only challenging cultural stereotypes but also how much we internalize those.
For sure. The program makes it fun to go out and try new things, that also happens to serve the community and environment. Investing in something permanent, that they can easily conceive the benefit of, creates a sense of pride and ownership. Once they start exhibiting that pride and accomplishment, then other kids want to get involved.
One thing I’ve learned is that it’s vitally important to help BIPOC communities, especially at a young age, to kind of redefine their relationship with nature, because there’s so much historical trauma and PTSD cemented in our collective psyche and DNA from hundreds of years of colonialism, environmental injustice, structural and physical racial oppression, you name it. Getting BIPOC folks to understand that historically, being in touch with nature has always been part of our culture. That we’ve just been disconnected in relatively recent history for all these different reasons. So we are working to help them redefine their relationship with nature and understand that all of these beautiful spaces, especially out here in the Pacific Northwest, are there for them to experience and benefit from as well.
How does your program prepare students for other opportunities beyond Blueprint?
As I mentioned before, we partner with several other organizations to maximize our reach and impact. One such example is through a collective called the Green Workforce Collaborative that targets BIPOC young adults, specifically 18 to 25 years old, who might have barriers to the workforce that are interested, potentially, in careers in the green sector. It’s a course where students increase their environmental and financial literacy. There are multiple different modules such as water, waste, transportation, agriculture, and all those key areas that will help prepare them for entry-level employment in green sector careers. It’s four days a week over five weeks, with two days spent in class and two days spent in the field doing hands-on work with potential future employers.
We are also a host site of a similar collaboration being sponsored by PGE called the Project Zero Works Social Impact Initiative, which also focuses on helping young adults facing barriers to employment in the green sector. Additionally, we are in partnership with 3 other non-profits serving BIPOC youth to execute the first year of the Tappin Roots Internship program, training 16 Black-identified youth towards becoming environmental educators and justice advocates. These programs, along with various other internships and paid training opportunities are helping prepare our students, build their resumes, and expand their skill sets to help them succeed at the next phase of their academic or professional development.
Look, the harsh reality is that our schools are not equitably preparing all of our kids to be competitive at the next level. All too often, even students with good grades who get accepted to college, they get there, and they’re overwhelmed with the rigor. We always push education and try to get the kids that want to go to that next level, but also realize that it’s not the only pathway for success.
You know, it’s often all about the connections. So one of the main things is making sure these kids have connections and opportunities so that when they catch a bug for and want to pursue something, they actually know someone who can get them through that door and then mentor them so they don’t get overwhelmed and quit in the first year.
Consistency and continuity are key too. There are many “rubber-stamp” programs and toothless DEI initiatives that get folks from different backgrounds into certain industry internships or training programs, but they don’t have the wraparound support or the culturally specific mentoring to help them weather that storm of that first year or two and actually progress in that field.
We are working to make sure that our young adults have access to professionals of color in various fields that they’re interested in, who will be there to support them for the long haul.
It’s pretty awesome to be able to get this group of people together that are all from the class of ’93 to focus on equity together. Why is this fundraiser and overall effort impactful? What does it mean for you?
Growing up and going to school in the predominately white, upper-middle-class environment that we did, where I often felt culturally isolated and stigmatized, it means a lot to me. Those close to me or who were paying close attention back then know that the struggle to raise cultural awareness, break down stereotypes, and promote equity is something I’ve always been heavily engaged in. However, the reality is that white supremacy will never be dismantled until white folks think of it as a white problem to attack, versus a black problem to empathize with. So yes, to see my peers, people I went to high school with, many of who may come from privilege, recognizing their need to be allies, raise awareness and embrace the current movement as a collective issue versus a black issue gives me a great deal of hope. It’s something that impacts all of us inside, you know, so people being willing to unpack that and explore what it really means, to work with the intention to have an impact and support folks who are already doing this work… it’s vital.
I think that’s the biggest missing ingredient of really moving the needle towards justice and equity in a substantial way… having enough people who benefit from our inherently oppressive systems be willing to say: yeah the current paradigm is fundamentally flawed and amoral, let’s break it all down, acknowledge and relinquish our privilege, and rebuild something more equitable for all.
My wish for the group is to hopefully go beyond the fundraising, which is awesome and appreciated, and you know, go to that next level of introspection and really looking at these systems, why these barriers exist, and why there is an opportunity gap that’s so vast. Engaging and leaning into uncomfortable but necessary dialogue. Then exploring how we start dismantling these systems that only work for some. I think the overriding consensus is that if we work together, we can make real progress to that end.