Letter from Misti S. Potter, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area
As CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area, I have been asked what our role is in all that is taking place. Our role as an organization has not wavered nor will it. We are here to serve the youth who need us most, and right now they need us more than ever. Today’s uncertain environment is leaving kids scared and confused, and it is our mission to provide a place where they feel safe and loved.
For more than 52 years, BGCAA has served the population’s most affected and most likely to be affected by inequality and injustice. By ensuring Clubs are located in Austin neighborhoods where kids need us most, we guarantee Club kids access to opportunities they may not experience otherwise – meanwhile teaching them imperative life skills for coping with life’s curveballs, as well as the value of integrity. Older Club teens ages 16 and up are 46% more likely to volunteer and 40% more likely to be on track to graduate from high school on time. Teens ages 13-15 are 38% less likely to consume alcohol and 32% less likely to smoke marijuana. Pre-teen Club youth ages 9-12 are 40% more likely to believe that schoolwork is meaningful, and 54% of all Club Alumni nationwide have said the Club “saved their life.”
Experience has shown us that placing youth of all backgrounds in the same, unlabeled, nonjudgmental environment results in building a sense of an unforced, natural desire for inclusion and friendship. BGCAA prides itself on welcoming children from all backgrounds into our Clubs, and once inside the only label they wear, for life, is Club kid. Over the years, our demographics have changed, and today BGCAA serves a diverse youth population that is: 1% American Indian or Alaskan Native, 1% Native Hawaiian, 2% Asian, 13% Caucasian, 24% Black or African American, 49% Hispanic or Latino and 11% other or multiple races. It is always our mission to instill a sense of belonging, usefulness, influence and competence in every single young person.
Ultimately, everything we do is intended to help our BGCAA staff and youth be the change we want to see in our world and so desperately need to see. As such, our programming is guided by three pillars: academic success, healthy lifestyles, and character and good citizenship. The character and good citizenship pillar is especially critical because it helps our youth grow up to become responsible, caring and productive citizens – citizens who can make Austin and America a place where all people can thrive, specifically people of color and particularly Black Americans.
While every organization has its own role, mission and purpose, I would suggest that every single company – and individual – actually has one role in common with BGCAA: For residents of our city and citizens of our world, that role is to invest their time, talent and resources in the community members who need us most, those who do not have the same advantages, those who have been disproportionately persecuted, underserved, and murdered because of the color of their skin. This is especially true for kids, as they’re the most vulnerable and have the most potential to bring about a better, kinder, fairer tomorrow.
As peaceful protests and demands for justice turn to riots fueled by centuries of injustice, I urge you to remember that our community’s children are watching you and will witness your reactions to what is happening in our nation. Now is the time to think about your role and to play it. I shared the following thoughts with our BGCAA staff this week, which could also be helpful to others as they lead their companies, households and lives and look to define their roles in this moment:
It is our role to be better and do better. It is our responsibility to demand the same from every single person we come in contact with. Each of us is in control of our own actions, and we must hold one another accountable for how we act and treat each another. It is not enough to say you want change and then never actually do anything to effect change. You have to invest and do the hard work every single day.
It is our role to listen, provide real advice and offer positive, purposeful encouragement so we can make a difference. It is our responsibility to use our influence and opportunities to shape the impressionable minds of the Austin youth who will become our future leaders. Our success won’t come from how many kids we’ve served as much as how we served them – how we invested in their development (or not), how we came alongside them to work through life’s challenges (or not), how we helped them persevere and glean knowledge and wisdom amid surges and setbacks (or not), how we celebrated the victories along the way (or not) and how we modeled what it means to be proactive, accepting, inclusive, compassionate and dedicated to abiding by the simplest of rules, the golden one, and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (or not).
This chapter of our history is giving us a lot to process and countless opportunities for progress, and uncertainty surrounds us as we seek to move forward. Let us seriously consider and wholly embrace the role we get to play in bringing about justice and great futures – for our for-profits, non-profits, neighborhoods, churches, families, circles of friends, this city and this world. We at BGCAA are proud to have a role to play, and we will continue fighting for justice and seeking to build great futures for all, especially our kids.
Misti S. Potter
CEO, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area