Making a Difference: How One Alum Helps San Francisco’s Youth

The Urban Ed Academy Staff and students posed for a group shot at Sept. 2013 event at Eldorado Elementary school, San Francisco, CA.
Brian Gadsden (top row, far right) and the Urban Ed Academy staff gather with their students during a Sept. 2013 event at Eldorado Elementary school in San Francisco, CA.

“Starting a new non-profit is not easy,” says Brian Gadsden, CCAS BA ’93. “I’ve seen many fail while trying to duplicate work that is already being done.”

Gadsden knows something about how to make the non-profit life work; he founded the San Francisco,CA-based Urban Ed Academy (UEA), which celebrated its launch in summer 2013. Gadsden, who serves as UEA’s executive director, had been working toward that moment since 2010, when the organization began.

The Academy’s mission is to improve the quality of life in San Francisco’s communities of color by eliminating the achievement gap in education.

UEA offers educational services that are designed to help third, fourth and fifth grade male students succeed academically. These services are geared towards helping these students become knowledgeable and productive citizens with the support of their parents, families, schools and communities.

“Too often, elementary school boys of color are on the losing side of an achievement gap that only seems to widen as their academic career progresses,” Gadsden explains.  “Third, fourth and fifth grade is a critical age to begin teaching students the core academic knowledge, skills and habits that youth need to be successful in school.”

UEA believes that parental and community involvement is crucial to the students’ success. The staff works to ensure that students have grade-level reading and math skills, attend school and receive emotional support.

As a result, mentoring is a big part of the organization’s structure.

“UEA brings together men from all sectors to surround the boys with love, inspiration and support,” says Gadsden. “[It’s] especially rewarding to create a space for men of color to bring their full selves to this important work.”

Gadsden, a non-profit management consultant who holds a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University, has a deep passion for this line of work that dates back to his GW days.

While pursuing his undergraduate degree at GW, Gadsden took Professor Honey Nashman’s human services class. There, Gadsden and his classmates engaged in service learning, gaining hands-on experience through internships in the community.

“I learned a learned a lot about leadership, service and myself in that class,” Gadsden says.

While living in DC’s Shaw neighborhood, Gadsden applied what he learned in Nashman’s class when he started the GW Neighbors Project.

“I wanted to connect other students and resources at GW to community-based organizations and schools in my neighborhood,” he explains.

Thanks to Gadsden’s initiative, the Neighbors Project is now GW’s primary long-term volunteer placement program.

With numerous successful service-based projects behind him, The Urban Education Academy is poised to have a dramatic impact on the lives of its students—and Gadsden is excited to work towards helping San Francisco’s youth become productive members of society.

Although starting a non-profit or founding a youth program isn’t easy, Gadsden has advice for those who dream of making a difference.

“Find a need that you are passionate about,” he says. “Look for organizations that are already doing the work and begin working or volunteering for that organization.  It’s important to connect with others who are in your same space and learn from them.”

And if The Urban Ed Academy’s mission speaks to you, Gadsden invites you to learn more by getting in touch. “Give me a call!” he says. “I’m always happy to help a GW alum!”

–Melissa Nyman

Thanks very much to Brian Gadsden for sharing his story and vision with us! Want to know more? Follow The Urban Ed Academy for news and updates: Facebook | Twitter



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