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What $1.8M from Bloomberg Philanthropies Means For Birmingham City Students

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By Ryan Michaels

The Birmingham Times

Birmingham Promise has been awarded a $1.8 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to expand its apprenticeship and internship program for seniors in Birmingham City Schools (BCS).

Primarily known for covering the cost of in-state college tuition for BCS graduates, Birmingham Promise also provides work opportunities for students before they graduate.

BCS Superintendent Mark Sullivan, Ed.D. said the grant will provide students an opportunity to learn and grow by having internships with various professional organizations. “There is no substitute for that kind of experience,” Sullivan said. “The impact that this will have on our students lives, it will help shape their futures for their successes.”

The grant will allow students to “dream,” he added.

“This opens up opportunities for students to be able to see that they can attain goals,” Sullivan said. “It opens up opportunities for students to have self confidence in their ability to go into any type of corporate environment and stand on their own and be successful.”

Birmingham Promise opportunities, which come from more than 80 local employers, are focused in four core industries: “finance and insurance,” “healthcare and life sciences,” “energy and engineering” and “digital technology.”

Exposure to those fields is important for some students, Sullivan said.

“One of the things that we know is that oftentimes students who live or who come from trying circumstances, they oftentimes don’t have a lot of exposure to careers and jobs that they don’t see in their neighborhoods,” Sullivan said, “or they may not be exposed to in the local families.”

Rachel Harmon, outgoing executive director of Birmingham Promise who is leaving to attend Yale Law School in early 2022, said, the grant allows Birmingham Promise to directly invest in career student trajectories. “It’s going to allow us to help [students] create prosperous careers and futures and be a part of that journey and we’re so excited to do that with more students across our city,” she said.

Mayor Randall Woodfin said the Bloomberg grant was “competitive,” which he said speaks to the quality of Birmingham Promise.

“To be honest, [it doesn’t matter] if it was $1.8 million, or 100 pennies,” Woodfin said. “The point is, [Bloomberg] has a very rigorous vetting process, so [Birmingham Promise], in my opinion, has the capability to be a model for any American city for how they should engage their young people and offer opportunity.”

Woodfin said the grant, along with local support, legitimizes the Birmingham Promise.

“It’s the ultimate validation of our efforts launching Birmingham Promise to have, not only our local supporters and our local small business owners support this,” Woodfin said, “but to have our local investments matched by a national organization like this . . . I think it helps us enhance and expand and deepen our efforts to support our next generation who is full of talent.”