Partner Spotlights, Postsecondary and Career Pathways

Meeting the Moment with Alex Bernadotte

"I believe that this is our moment to be BOLD - to resist the gravitational pull back to “normal” because normal was inadequate, insufficient, and unjust for so many communities."

By Alex Bernadotte, Founder and CEO of Beyond 12

In 2020, the intertwining and inequitable systems, from health and education to legal and democracy and beyond, in this country were laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic and the renewed and growing call for Black liberation and justice. As part of this year’s Annual Report, we asked nine leaders from the New Profit community what 2020 and these national reckonings looked like for them, their organizations, and the social sector writ large.

Continue reading to hear from Alex Bernadotte, Founder and CEO of Beyond 12, a digital coaching platform that combines virtual college coaches, a campus customized mobile app, and an AI-powered analytics engine to help historically underserved students thrive in college and beyond. Beyond 12, a New Profit grantee-partner, currently provides 90,000+ students nationally with the academic, social, and emotional support they need to not only earn their degrees but to translate those degrees into meaningful employment and choice-filled lives.

To hear from the other eight leaders and to access more content from the New Profit 2020 Annual Report, click here.

What is the biggest challenge that philanthropy/the social impact sector is/has faced as a result of the events of 2020?

The impact of the intersecting pandemics we are experiencing in 2020 is neither isolated nor random. The disparities that are devastating our most vulnerable communities stem from the systemic injustices that Black and Brown Americans have suffered for over 400 years; a complex machination of racist practices, laws, and policies that have led to the current disparities in health, wealth, lending, housing, safety, education, and well being. These events have forced us to face the reality that although we have long claimed that the systems we are working to disrupt are broken, these systems are, in fact, achieving the outcomes they were designed to achieve.

Our education system isn’t broken — it was intentionally built to open the path of opportunity for a select few and deny it to others. It was specifically crafted to ensure that wealth, power, and influence remain the province of the privileged. This is why efforts that are not rooted in systems change and redesign – however bold – have only achieved incremental results.

Our education system isn’t broken — it was intentionally built to open the path of opportunity for a select few and deny it to others.

As educator Paulo Freire posited in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, education “either functions as an instrument…to facilitate the younger generation into the logic of the present system…OR it becomes the practice of freedom…the means by which [generations] deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” To produce different outcomes, we have to do more than prepare our young people to succeed in the system as we know it. We have to prepare them to question that system, deconstruct it, and build a new one – one that is specifically, deliberately, and intentionally designed to deliver equitable outcomes for ALL children. Our goal, then, must become “education for liberation.”

What innovations/solutions did you create in response to the events of this year?

When colleges responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by closing their campuses and transitioning their academic offerings to an online format, the shift pulled the rug out from under students who relied on their school for more than just lectures. This transition was a necessary step to ensure public safety, but many students also lost stable housing, reliable sources of food, access to health care and employment, as well as to relationships and support structures crucial to their success. In March, when Beyond 12 sent a survey asking our students to answer two simple questions: “what are your biggest concerns at this time?” and “how can we help?” one student responded:

“I am worried I won’t be able to complete my coursework. Since I am homeless now and have to go to Starbucks just to finish my work.”

To address the immediate impact of the pandemic, we:

  1. expanded our virtual coaching services and platform to support any first-generation college student who needs help. Our COVID-19 coaching corps has responded to more than 200 coaching requests from first-generation college students who are not affiliated with one of our current partners.
  2. launched a COVID-19 student relief fund to provide micro-grants to students who are experiencing unexpected financial challenges. To date, we have awarded $199,895 to 413 students to help them pay for transportation, food/groceries, temporary housing, storage, and technology equipment, including laptops and portable wi-fi hotspots.
  3. created a COVID-19 student resource guide to help students navigate the overwhelming number of messages they are receiving about the pandemic and its impact on their college and career journeys.

In addition, we acquired award-winning community college persistence app, GradGuru. This acquisition will help us expand our coaching platform on an accelerated timeline –– doubling our current reach –– so that we can eventually serve 1 million historically underrepresented college students annually by 2025. This growth comes at a critical time when students are relying on our virtual coaching services to stay on track, ensuring that the pandemic does not permanently derail their college and career dreams.

What do we need to do collectively to “Meet the Moment?”

2020 has been a challenging year. Personally, it has been a heartbreaking year because I lost my beloved grandmother who raised me to COVID-19. I understand first-hand the longing for normalcy and the desire to cling on to what once was as we all struggle to make sense of our new reality. However, even as I grieve, I believe that this is our moment to be BOLD – to resist the gravitational pull back to “normal” because normal was inadequate, insufficient, and unjust for so many communities. What do we need to do to collectively meet the moment? Whatever your sphere of influence, I implore you to ACT – to fight against racial injustice and oppression, and to join forces with those working to dismantle the systems that have led our country’s deep inequities. No more quick fixes. No more incrementalism. No more silence.

I believe that this is our moment to be BOLD - to resist the gravitational pull back to “normal” because normal was inadequate, insufficient, and unjust for so many communities.

To hear from the other eight leaders and to access more content from the New Profit 2020 Annual Report, click here.