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"The fate of empires depends on the education of youth."

Those are the words of Greek philosopher and polymath Aristotle. Though spoken over 2,300 years ago, they remain just as true today, maybe more so. In the Information Age, our communities, and our nation, cannot thrive without a well-educated populace.  

April Hibbler, Executive Director of the Global College Pipeline Initiative, agrees.

The Global College Pipeline Initiative (GCP) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Memphis, Tennessee. Their mission is to help high school students succeed in their own lives and positively impact the lives of others. The nonprofit works primarily with disadvantaged youth of color, and every graduate of the program is guaranteed admission into one of GCP's partner universities.

Since 2017, GCP has worked to develop an infrastructure to help students enroll and excel in college. They do this through a structured system of learning, cultural study, global integration, and life experience. After graduation, these students will use their new knowledge and experience to strengthen and uplift their communities.

In today's spotlight, we sat down with GCP Executive Director April Hibbler to discuss the importance of education and how much difference it can make in a young life to hear just one person say, "I believe in you."

Tell us about the Global College Pipeline Initiative. How did it start? What's your mission?

GCP was born out of a need to get students back into college. Many colleges are dealing with high attrition rates, meaning students drop out after the first year.

Our students are usually from lower-income to working-class families, predominantly African American and Hispanic. Many colleges will talk about their high acceptance rates of lower-income students of color, but they don't tell you half of those students are gone in the first year. Very few are properly prepared for college after they graduate high school.

GCP helps clear up the educational, emotional, and social gaps that prevent students from being successful and graduating from college. Our curriculum includes financial literacy, academic enrichment, global perspective, career advancement, college advancement, and social and emotional learning. Our goal is for students to graduate from high school college-ready, and everyone who completes our program is guaranteed admission to one of our partner universities.

What makes GCP unique?

We emphasize global preparedness. All our students get the opportunity to study abroad and have to take three years of foreign language. We equip them to be global citizens, so they can think both globally and locally.

Most other programs focus on one or two of the aspects we offer, maybe just academic enrichment, college advancement, or career preparedness. We pull everything together and help the student improve their financial literacy and social and emotional learning. We focus on students and their families holistically.

All our students are required to complete Dr. Brenda Caldwell's Paragon Program. The program helps kids shift their mentality and remove mental barriers to success.

Some kids may think, "I'm a failure," "I'm stupid," or something similarly self-defeating. Dr. Caldwell teaches them self-confidence and helps uproot some of those traumatic things they endured, the traumas that prevent them from accepting success within themselves.

What made you decide to champion this cause?

I have a commitment to economic empowerment, and academic advancement is the foundation of economic empowerment. If people are not adequately educated, they are not going to be able to take advantage of the same opportunities. They just will not succeed.

That's how you see multiple generations of systemic poverty. People aren't taught better, so they don't do better. If the opportunity is there, there are no limitations, no matter where someone is from. With the right opportunities, you will see your society change, not just the person. And an educated society is better for all of us.

Who has inspired you as an educator?

Mr. Glisson — my teacher, the man who changed my life. He ran the honors program in my school. I get choked up when I talk about him.

In middle school, I had very low confidence, and my grades were not great. As I was walking down the hall one day, Mr. Glisson was standing outside his door. He looked at me and said, "I see something in you. You're different. All you need is an opportunity. How about I put you in my honors classes?"

I said, "I don't even have the grades to be in your honors classes."

He said, "No. You just need a change in environment. You need somebody to believe in you. I see something. I see you."

I didn't believe in myself at all. After he said that, I went home and I cried. I told my mom, "This man wants to put me in honors classes, they're gonna laugh at me."  

I didn't want to go, but she told me, "You are gonna go to those classes, baby."

So I went to these honor classes, and everything changed. I changed. My whole life changed from that point on. Ever since then, I was on the path to college.

I did much better in school because I was in an environment where people believed in me. It was the same school, just different courses, but suddenly, I was in the right environment. All it took was somebody to say, "I know you can do it."

Mr. Glisson's confidence in me helped me grow my self-confidence. That man changed my life. I know from experience what just being given the proper opportunity can do for a young mind.

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Could you walk us through your program? What could a new student inductee expect?

Our students begin in 9th or 10th grade. We start by clearing any educational gaps. This might mean taking an intro to English class or remedial math, whatever is necessary. Then they do a summer bridge program where they work continuously on these gaps.

During the academic school year, they go through a financial literacy curriculum. They also have social and emotional learning once a week. This goes on from 9th to 10th grade and into 11th grade.

If they successfully complete all courses, they apply to one of our partner universities in the spring of their junior year. There will be three to six partner colleges to choose from, several of which are Historically Black Colleges and Universities. These are the schools that have produced the greatest number of Black engineers, Black attorneys, and Black doctors.

Students should all have plenty of exposure to these campuses at this point, so they can make an informed decision. If they meet all the requirements, students are guaranteed admission to the school of their choice.

Students can accumulate up to 18 college credits before they graduate high school. During the summer months from 10th to 11th grade, students must do a summer bridge program where they earn nine college credits from one of the partner universities. During their 11th-12th grade summer, students all travel overseas for study-abroad internships and take courses to earn a further six to nine college credits.

By 12th grade, students do a capstone project. The capstone project is a community initiative based on everything they've learned so far.

Then they go on to college, and we follow their progress. After they graduate, they have career opportunities back home in Memphis. GCP partners with corporations to loop students back into the community when their formal education is complete.

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What has been your greatest challenge as an organization?

Maintaining partnerships and really getting the program going. When we first started, we would convince a high school to partner with us. Then the principal would suddenly get fired or quit, and there goes the partnership. The new principal says, "We don't really want to do this right now. I have to focus on just their test scores. We don't have time to engage in partnerships."

Thanks to the politics behind education, school initiatives are constantly changing. Instead of college advancement, maybe they want to prioritize workforce development. Everyone has a different agenda. Some people benefit from low test scores because it brings in more grant money. It's not in their best interests to really get these kids going.

These are some of the harsh realities we face, and it can be a real challenge to implement our programs. At a very practical level, our biggest challenge is just pushing past these changes and continuing to form partnerships with schools.

How has quarantine affected your organization? What are you doing to adapt?

It's caused everything to just grind to a halt. Any work that we were planning to do with the schools has come to a halt. Partnership development came to a halt. All negotiations have stopped.

Everything's shifted. People we're working with had to stop because they were engaging directly. However, now that things are calming down, we're able to re-engage with these people remotely.

What have been some of GCP's biggest wins?

Our first college partnership and maybe our first grant. Just seeing someone believe in the program was tremendously empowering. When our first college partnered with us, they saw our mission and believed in it. They didn't know the kids, they're not even in the same state, but they agreed to take them in.

Just getting buy-ins from schools and communities and corporate and government funders is big. Bringing these infrastructures together and getting them to believe in it hard enough to start putting students through the program.

I love the goals getting accomplished, the results manifested. When one of the kids' ACT scores goes up by 4 or 5 points. We change the trajectory of a student's life for real, not just as a cliche. Our goal is that students go through our program, and things change. It's a systematic empowerment of students.

A big win is just seeing the change — not only in the students but in the city of Memphis. That's why we do it. That is the way GCP is structured. Students learn, and we loop them back into the city to build this economy. It's a 360. You are going to be educated and come back and build something. Whatever is broken, whatever is wrong, you're going to fix it.

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Where have you seen positive societal change to inspire the actions of GCP?

I traveled abroad quite a bit and learned much about different educational systems and how they succeeded.

In many societies I've been to, particularly some cities in China, study abroad was viewed as part of the secondary school education package. It was emphasized in addition to the established curriculum. Students would learn successful education, policy, and economic best practices from other countries and bring this knowledge back to be implemented in their home country, to build up their own communities.

It's an incredible academic practice for preparing students and one I firmly believe in. It makes students internationally competitive and strengthens the economy.

I was in Guangzhou, China, a few years back, and the infrastructure there is shockingly amazing. I saw firsthand how it works. Even in law practice, this government encouraged law students to pass the bar exam both in China and in the US, so they can compete strongly in both economies. America's law students are bar-certified in one state, while Chinese students can work in two countries.

Nigeria is another place where I've seen the positive impact international education and exposure can have on youth. It's an environment where employment opportunities are not always readily available, so in addition to a heavy emphasis on education, students are trained to create their own economic opportunities through entrepreneurship.

As a result, I saw many young Nigerians start their own small businesses right out of college or even high school. These youth have the confidence and business aptitude to travel to other countries, negotiate, buy goods, and come back to sell them in their businesses. With the informal and formal training they received, they started local or international businesses that could sustain and elevate their livelihood, despite their country’s economic limitations.

Where do you see GCP in five years?

I would like to see at least two or three cohorts come through, and I would like to see it launched in another city. Duplicate it.

Do you have a message you want to share with our readers?

Education pays off. It opens your mind and gives clarity. It's not just for the sake of going to college — it's an absolute necessity. Education opens your mind to limitless possibilities.

Education removes mental barriers. It helps you to solve problems around you, and it enables innovation. We need innovators. We want an educated population. We need all hands on deck to be their best.

God brought you here with a gift. Everybody has a different gift, a different purpose in the world. We need all to move forward in the best way.

We need everybody, and you are worth it. --

Yes, you. You reading this. You are worth it. -- Swyft Filings GCP 02

If you'd like to help the Global College Pipeline Initiative, you can learn more or donate via a PayPal button on the GCP website. All donations go straight to GCP with no fees. If you're interested in a community partnership, you can contact them directly.  

For more uplifting stories about small organizations working with America's youth, check out our spotlight series articles on New Jersey's Walk-On Foundation, L.A.'s City Lights Gateway Foundation, and Coach Tobe Carberry's Haven4Hoops.