The Opportunity Spartanburg Summit•
Several Spartanburg (SC) residents were ready to engage their city and county councils after a unique summit on the 2013 Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. The Opportunity Spartanburg Summit engaged a generationally and socio-economically diverse group of about 40 people to discuss local and national opportunity with representatives from Spartanburg School District 7, AmeriCorps, Delta Sigma Theta, Children’s Shelter of the Upstate, Spartanburg Community College, Operation Restoration, SC Department of Health and Environmental Control, City of Spartanburg Parks and Recreation, Spartanburg Methodist College, Converse College, Spartanburg Chamber of Commerce, United Way and Tailored Tutoring Services.
It was a packed morning! We explored the disparity in youth and adult perceptions of opportunity through Imagine That’s Youth Theatre’s performance of two scenes: “Falling” and “Choices”. Through the Opportunity Index we discovered the weakest rungs on the ladder of economic opportunity while still remembering to celebrate Spartanburg’s strengths. We were moved by the surprising and raw testimony of a young person who represents countless socially and economically isolated youth in our community. By the end of the day we determined to connect and collaborate in new ways to support Opportunity Youth in Spartanburg through the combined efforts of City of Spartanburg’s Youth Council and Opportunity Nation.
The idea for an Opportunity Summit sprouted after I attended the 2012 National Opportunity Summit as an Opportunity Leader. I wanted to understand why communities like Spartanburg, despite being strong, small and supportive, struggled to create and support innovative routes to opportunity. It seemed unjust that a community boasting six institutions of higher education was also home to the highest and lowest performing schools and knew that there had to be stories behind the data and shared this with colleagues. Luckily, I have amazing colleagues, Lauren Rogers with the City of Spartanburg’s Youth Council and Kierra Sims with the Social Justice Youth Theatre Troupe, Imagine That who are just as passionate about youth engagement; we decided to move forward together to implement a summit.
As we began to plan, the 5th annual MLK Jr. Day of Service planning committee formed and I was invited to participate as the 2012-2013 AmeriCorps*VISTA Coordinator at the United Way of the Piedmont. The Day of Service is a long-standing partnership between the seven Spartanburg County school districts, City of Spartanburg, United Way and the six local colleges. We thought the Day of Service would be a great platform for a new style of service project designed to share the Opportunity Index and increase awareness of the Opportunity Nation movement. When the City of Spartanburg Community Services Department announced the Mayor’s Mentoring Challenge to recruit 500 mentors over the next year and told us our summit and the Opportunity Nation movement dovetailed with the initiative, we knew we had chosen well.
To keep the momentum going, we plan to host smaller conversations at churches, neighborhood meetings and organizations and foresee hosting a larger summit maybe as early as late spring/early summer that draws on a larger base of partners. We are so excited about the Opportunity Nation movement and encouraged by the conversations it is stirring in communities across the nation!