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Former NBA all-star and Oak Park, California, native Kevin Johnson started St. Hope in 1989 with the desire to revitalize his hometown community. It started in a portable classroom at Sacramento High School as an after-school program named St. HOPE (Helping Others Pursue Excellence) Academy. It has since become a nonprofit community development corporation that includes a K-12 independent public charter school district comprised of six schools. St. Hope has funded $11 million in development in Oak Park, birthing 14 businesses, 282 jobs, and several renovation projects. Its mission is to revitalize inner-city communities through public education, civic leadership, economic development, and the arts.
BLACK ENTERPRISE: What’s the state of U.S. public schools?
Kevin Johnson: There is an education crisis affecting all schools. The current graduation rate, according to some studies for all high school students, is a disappointing 71%. This number is reduced to 56% for African American students and 52% for Latinos. Sure, crime rates, drug activity, socioeconomic background, and per-pupil spending, among others, are factors that contribute to these differences, but by no means should these be considered the reason for the discrepancies. The fact is it will take all kinds of people, in all kinds of communities, to make sure that our young people are getting the education they deserve.
BE: What are the goals of this initiative?
Johnson: Our goal is simple: to create the finest urban schools in the country where all students graduate and enroll in four-year universities without the need for remediation.
BE: How did you raise capital for this project?
Johnson: We received financial support from several major benefactors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. We are extremely fortunate to also have a business and philanthropic community that believes in St. Hope.
BE: How does real estate fit into your goals for St. Hope?
Johnson: We firmly believe you cannot truly empower a community unless education and economic development opportunities are combined. Our biggest real estate venture [is the] 40 Acres Art Gallery and Cultural Center. Completed in 2003, this 20,000-square-foot, mixed-use development project includes a 220-seat theater, art gallery, bookstore, barber shop, Starbucks, and 12 loft apartments.
‘BE: What can other entrepreneurs do to help?
Johnson: Learn more at sthope.org. I am [also] part of a national campaign called Stand Up that promotes awareness of this crisis and attempts to mobilize all Americans to demand a solution. Log on to standup.org.