To my Breakthrough friends, colleagues and trustees,

Taking leave of people who inspire you and a mission that moves you is never easy.  This week, it’s been especially tough. 

For one thing, the joyous images of our first fully in-person Breakthrough summer program in two years are just starting to show up. A few are linked here. No one walks away from that.   

For me, that Breakthrough magic has been a booster shot against the wave of dismay I’ve seen spreading across the Collaborative in this week of “goodbye.” No matter where you stand on last week’s Supreme Court decision, our nation’s deep political and cultural divisiveness shows up as a huge obstruction on the path toward equity – educational and otherwise.

Those forces have shaped our work together these last few years. We’ve been up and down and up again, as this moment in history has called us to look backward as much as it has urged us to look ahead. As a Collaborative, we’ve faced dozens of challenges – some internal, some beyond our control — to achieving our goals. Yet we’ve powered through and grown stronger.

Our shared journey reminds me of something written by my friend Leonard Pitts Jr., a Pulitzer Prize-winner whose column I edited in the horrific fog of 9/11 more than two decades ago: “We’ll go forward from this moment,” he wrote. “We are a vast and quarrelsome family, a family rent by racial, cultural, political and class division, but a family nonetheless.”

Nowhere does the hope for our vast American family shine brighter than at Breakthrough. And never in the Collaborative’s life story has there been more proof than in these past five years.  Remember: After the hard work of transforming ourselves from the inside out, we skidded into the spring of 2020 — a global pandemic that literally upended everything about business as usual. It could have destroyed us, as it did others. But no.

In just two months this Collaborative extended a virtual summer lifeline of love, learning and community to 6,000 vulnerable students across the country, from middle school to college. In 2021, we added thousands to that number. All the while vastly expanding our national profile and network of supporters.

That’s phenomenal progress. For Breakthrough, for students and for those who care deeply about educational equity. Over the past year, our program team poured the sum of Breakthrough’s brilliance into a research-based framework for social-emotional learning called Human First. Last week they were invited to share their new work, developed with support from a generous grantor, at a major national conference for educational funders.

I know there’s much more to do, and it pains me to leave it undone. Yet I leave you in the best of hands: a generous, engaged national board; staff leaders you trust who are continuously growing and improving Collaborative programs and operations; innovative and community-connected directors and teams at every site that calls itself Breakthrough. And lastly, you have a new CEO who’s lived the lives of our students and has excelled at the work we need to do now.

We know our nation will not succeed at creating equity or centering the needs of students without a stronger pipeline to generate excellent teachers. For an amazing 45 years, Breakthrough has been really good at doing both things. As we did in 2020, it’s time to muster all our assets toward the greatest possible impact, to lead with humility, confidence and urgency.  

As Amanda Gorman eloquently exhorts us: “That doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect/We are striving to forge a union with purpose.”

It’s time to grow, Breakthrough. Godspeed.