By Anirudh Krishnakumar
Today we examine one of the leading social change groups of the Bay Area – the Ever Forward Club. This group, based in Oakland, CA, was founded by Ashanti Branch, a civil engineer turned teacher. After graduating from California Polytechnic at San Luis Obispo, Ashanti began his career as tutor for underserved students. It was during this time, in which he saw the daily struggles of his pupils, that he developed a realization of the sheer difficulties his pupils faced in obtaining a high degree of education.
It was this realization that shifted him to a path of educating, and in 2004, as a first year teacher, he decided to found the Ever Forward Club. The organization aims to assist young men, especially those of color, in developing a greater consciousness. The four central areas on which Ever Forward focuses are academic, personal, family, and community development. The theory of the group is that creating a supportive social community allows individual students better opportunities for success than if they were to delve into their studies by themselves.
The principle is realized in various forms – most often in the form of the “Taking off the Mask” workshop. In these 2 hour workshops, students have the opportunity to open up about their lives in a safe, non-judgemental environment, and express what their true feelings are behind the “mask” they put on for the public.
Ever Forward also issues various challenges, most notably the 24 Hour Relay Challenge. The challenge takes place annually on Memorial Day. It has been going on for 14 years, and gives people of all walks of life the chance to gather and enjoy community activities focused on healthy lifestyles. The relay aims to provide teens with an alternative to drug and alcohol related activities, the latter of which are unfortunately far too common in the area.
The club’s most recent challenge, #100kMasks, is their most ambitious yet – a massive compilation of masks from all over the world, which represent the emotions people display and hide on an everyday basis. Ashanti hopes that this newest project will help bind the world together and demonstrate that at the core, all human beings are connected insofar as the masks that we live in.
But with all of this talk of creating a better life for underserved teens, what tangible results does the club show? Quite a bit, actually – as of their latest update, about “200 potential first generation college students have attended [their] annual college tours,” “1500 students and over 500 volunteers” have taken part in the 24 Hour Relay, and most impressively, their high school senior graduation rate is not 90, not 95, not 99, but 100%.
With such inspiring results, the club hopes to expand and eventually become a national organization. The Ever Forward Club still needs volunteers to help it in its mission. To learn more, visit their websites at www.100kMasks.com and www.everforwardclub.org, where you can register for their various events, or get in contact with them at [email protected]