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Leaping Forward Together: Reflecting on Seven Years of Partnership

My family and I made the leap to San Antonio seven years ago this July. We wanted to be closer to our parents and we wanted our parents to be involved in our children’s lives. We were also excited to escape Chicago winters, even knowing we were trading them for the unrelenting heat of Texas summers.

This was a leap that led to many others. 

I was fortunate to get a job supporting Excel Beyond the Bell San Antonio. Two years into that work I took on the executive role with UP Partnership, known at the time as the  P16Plus Council. We then merged Excel Beyond the Bell and UP in service of making San Antonio the “top city in the country for youth to learn, grow, and thrive.” 

These roles connected me to collective impact – the art and science of working across institutions to solve big population level problems, such as educational equity. Collective impact quickly became my professional home. It gave me a way to combine my commitment to young people and my passion for urban planning, largely by building new structures for focused partnerships. 

I love how collective impact constantly draws us into the unknown, calling us forth into new possibilities. It helps us to see that there is an infinite pool of solutions waiting to take shape: Connections that need to be built. Agreements waiting to be formed. Collaborations ready to take root. And so many of these possibilities require enhanced versions of ourselves, new ways of showing up in the work.

Throughout these years, I’ve had the great fortune of working with more than two dozen staff and hundreds of passionate volunteers. Together, as one friend said, “we have thinned the walls that separate our institutions.” We have built a growing community movement by embracing emergence at each step of the way. 

While some benefits of this movement are intangible, many of the results are concrete. 

Through the leadership of Diplomás, we’ve built breakthrough training resources and large-scale convenings for educators. Through My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio, the Restorative Practices Collaborative has scaled restorative justice tools such as peace circles and corners, reducing several school districts’ reliance on punitive discipline. Through Excel Beyond the Bell, youth serving agencies have gained unprecedented access to program data and Excel Academy has helped dozens of agencies build higher quality relationships with those they serve, a key to strong program outcomes. 

Working alongside many other contributors, our collective has helped the larger San Antonio community to deepen its commitment to racial equity. We were among the first communities in the country to commit to an equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. More recently, we have set a shared North Star of attaining 70% postsecondary enrollment for our high school graduates by 2030, a goal that will help to uproot longstanding racial, ethnic, economic, and geographic disparities.

Together we’ve helped bring tens of millions of new dollars to the table to support young people. This has happened through: multi-million dollar increases in how the city funds youth violence prevention, a dedicated $10 million youth recovery fund through ARPA, $4 million in new community grants we’ve facilitated through Blue Meridian Partners, and $14 million in gifts we’ve helped shape through the Corporate Partners for Racial Equity in partnership with the San Antonio Area Foundation and the United Way. 

Importantly, we haven’t settled for just using our own voices. We have prepared young people for future waves of advocacy. This was initially accomplished by revitalizing the San Antonio Youth Commission and more recently through youth-led research, policy training, grantmaking, and storytelling in conjunction with partners such as SAY Sí.

Collectively, we have treated the unknown as a stepping stone to discovering what’s possible. As a result, we have found new ways of leading together, built a movement that is now more unified than ever, and many of us have made close new friendships along the way. 

The next phase of our work will be anchored by the Future Ready Bexar County Plan, which supports our new bold North Star goal. This plan is backed by nearly seventy institutions, including local government departments, school districts, universities, non profits, and funders. These partners have all made explicit commitments to scaling Healing instead of punishment, Access instead of disconnection, and Voice instead of isolation, the must HAVEs for our young people to shine.  

Today, so many leaps later, I am proud to walk alongside so many of you brilliant community champions. Thank you all for your dedication to this work and for allowing UP Partnership and myself to support along the way. I am excited to continue leaping forward together and, in so doing, breaking down the walls that separate us.

In very serious cahoots,

Ryan Lugalia-Hollon