Birmingham Promise on Tuesday announced that Samantha Williams will be the organization’s new executive director.
Williams, who has more than a decade of experience in education nonprofits, was selected after a national search to replace outgoing director Rachel Harmon. Williams begins work immediately, with Harmon remaining through March 31 to ensure a smooth transfer of leadership.
“We were thrilled by the caliber of applicants for this job, but Samantha’s world of experience really stood out,” said Leroy Abrahams, chairman of the Birmingham Promise board of directors. “As a board, we were impressed with her skills and her vision, and we are excited to see where she will take Birmingham Promise.”
Williams spent the past decade at Teach For All, a global network focused on expanding educational opportunity around the world. Most recently, she led Teach For All’s Global Girls’ Education Initiative. Previously, she had served in New York as the organization’s chief of staff and in Johannesburg as the head of its operations in Africa.
“After serving in educational roles around the country and around the world, I could not be happier to come home to Alabama to join the exciting work being done by the Birmingham Promise team,” Williams said. “Providing college and career opportunities to Birmingham students is essential to ensuring that a life of possibilities and prosperity is available to them, and doing so will be transformational to the future of our city.”
Birmingham Promise provides up to four years of tuition assistance for graduates of Birmingham City Schools to attend any public two-year or four-year college or university in Alabama. The program also provides students with coaches to help them succeed in college. Since its inception in 2020, the program has provided $3.4 million in tuition assistance and other supports to 800 Birmingham graduates.
Birmingham Promise also offers an internship program that allows Birmingham City Schools seniors to earn $15 an hour, get job experience and begin building professional networks that will benefit them throughout their careers. To date, 225 Birmingham students have participated in this program, gaining work experience with 80 local employers in targeted industries.
An independent nonprofit, Birmingham Promise was launched as a public-private partnership, with significant financial support from the City of Birmingham and the corporate community totaling $26 million so far.
Birmingham Mayor Randall L. Woodfin, whose administration started Birmingham Promise, praised the program’s achievements despite enormous challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. He commended Harmon’s leadership during the past two difficult years, and said the program is positioned for considerable growth under Williams’ leadership.
“Ms. Harmon can head to law school knowing that Birmingham Promise is in good shape and in good hands,” Woodfin said. “Birmingham Promise is poised to move to an entirely new level with Ms. Williams at the helm, and my administration will continue to be completely invested as a partner in making that happen.”
Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Sullivan said Birmingham Promise and his system’s students stand to benefit from Williams’ considerable experience in advancing educational opportunities across the world.
“Ms. Williams is clearly an innovative leader who is fully committed to maximizing educational opportunities for young people regardless of where they live,” Dr. Sullivan said. “Everyone at Birmingham City Schools is eager to work with her and build on the work that has already occurred at Birmingham Promise to expand college and career opportunities for our scholars.”
Before joining Teach For All, Williams worked for Harvard University, where she managed its partnership with the University of Johannesburg Education Leadership Institute to support professional development of South African educators. She had previously worked in South Africa as a residence director and teacher at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, and she worked in Atlanta with the Georgia Department of Education in a program to support graduation coaches and reduce dropout rates.
A Daphne native, Williams is a graduate of Georgetown University, has a master’s degree in development studies from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and has a master’s degree in education from Harvard University.
Harmon said Williams’ background and passion for education made her the clear choice to help Birmingham Promise expand its community, educational and corporate partnerships to advance opportunities for Birmingham’s students.
“Though I am sad to be taking a step away from this incredible work, I am beyond excited to be passing the baton to Samantha Williams,” Harmon said. “She is an exemplary, principled leader and I know that, with her at the helm, the future is bright for Birmingham Promise.”