Some 100 non-profit leaders, community organizers, educators, public officials, and Boston College faculty and staff gathered in the Heights Room on April 6 and 7 for the Lynch School’s ninth Nelson Chair Roundtable, “Examining Neighborhood-Based Change: Demonstrating Collective Impact in the Boston Promise Initiative.” Directed by A.J. Franklin, the David S. Nelson Professor of Psychology and Education, the Nelson Roundtable is a once-a-year think tank that brings together leaders from community programs to share ideas, resources, and common concerns.

For the second year running, the roundtable partnered with the Boston Promise Initiative for a broad-based, strategic effort to create a “community of opportunity” in Boston’s North Dorchester and Roxbury neighborhoods. Supported by a five-year, $6 million Promise Neighborhood grant from the United States Department of Education, the program is spearheaded by the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), a community planning, organizing, and advocacy organization established in 1984. The DSNI partners with nearly 100 community organizations that are focused on economic development and opportunity for families and youth.

Franklin kicked off the gathering by quoting an African proverb, “The webs of many spiders tie down a lion,” to illustrate the importance of community collaboration—the fruits of which were at the center of discussions over the next two days. Representatives of Project Hope and No Child Goes Homeless, for example, discussed how monitoring children at three local schools has helped them identify and house 46 previously homeless families in the community since 2012.

Leaders of the Boston Plan for Excellence and its Boston Teacher Residency—which recruits, trains, and supports new teachers in the Boston Public Schools—spoke about efforts to move toward a “neighborhood-based” system where children attend schools close to their homes.  

Throughout the two-day event, attendees were encouraged to write ideas and suggestions for furthering local investments and community collaborations on paper “leaves,” which were pinned to a floor-to-ceiling “tree” that represented the Boston Promise Initiative.

Along with bringing together representatives from 48 organizations involved in the initiative, the Nelson Roundtable offers an opportunity for Boston College faculty and students to learn more about non-profit organizations and the city, Franklin pointed out. The April event drew Boston College faculty and students who support local community organizations in their research and data collection. “This passion is being shared with students and staff at all levels of the Boston College community and taken back into classrooms and fieldwork,” Franklin said.

Also in attendance were the directors of another Promise Neighborhood in Chula Vista, CA; Oti Esimaje, a cardiosurgeon from Trinidad who leads a foundation modeled off the Promise program; Turahn Dorsey, chief of education for the City of Boston; and Elson Nash, Promise Neighborhoods team lead at the U.S. Department of Education, who outlined the next steps for the Promise Neighborhoods program under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Dean Maureen Kenny introduced the roundtable program and said it reflects the Lynch School’s mission of “collaboration—with our schools, with our neighborhoods, and with our city.”

—By John Shakespear