2023 Achieve In Life Summit: Elevating Youth Voice and Working Together Towards Upward Mobility
The Communities In Schools® (CIS®) Achieve In Life Summit unfolded over three transformative days in the heart of Birmingham, Alabama. Held in November 2023, the convening brought together 130 staff, alumni, community partners, and youth advocates with a shared mission: to explore, discuss, and strategize ways to dismantle barriers obstructing the upward mobility of young people.
Each day was curated with activities centered around the themes of Building Awareness, Advancing Equity and Identifying Solutions.
Community engagement experiences shaped the energy of the summit, and Birmingham was a deliberate choice as the host city because of its roots in the civil rights movement.
Day 1 included a journey through the historic 16th Street Baptist Church and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. The visits were not simply sightseeing; they were profound experiences that left an indelible mark on our hearts and minds.
Throughout the summit, CIS alumni played an essential role in facilitating conversations, sharing stories and inspiring intergenerational collaboration.
Visiting the 16th Street Baptist Church was a powerful experience that takes you back to a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. Entering the church, you feel a sense of reverence as you step into the sanctuary, but you realize that this space has been preserved for years, and the pews and instruments serve as silent witnesses to the events that unfolded here since the 1960s.
– Rosie Martinez, PMP, CIS Alumna and Senior Project Manager
Day 2 kicked off with a morning conversation facilitated by Aisha Walters, Principal of DEI Programs and Initiatives for CIS, around what it takes/means to create and build spaces that bridge belonging. She was joined by Dr. Patton Furman, Principal of Magic City Acceptance Academy.
National and community partners took center stage during a purpose-filled lunch and panel, and the afternoon was full of thought-provoking sessions activating youth voice.
The day concluded with a spark session moderated by CIS President and CEO Rey Saldaña, featuring TechBirmingham President and CEO Deon Gordon, Kai XR Founder and CEO Kai Frazier and Sean Hardy, Director of National Strategy and Growth for Innovate Public Schools. The group explored the potential of AI and other technologies to transform education equity, empower communities and expand opportunities for young people.
The Achieve In Life Summit serves as a dynamic forum where shared goals converge, fostering collaboration to ensure access to opportunities that pave the way for every young person's success. Each year, participants engage in interactive discussions and workshops, immersive site visits, and networking opportunities, all with the hope of furthering the trajectory of students' goals and dreams.
– Rey Saldaña, CIS President and CEO
Day 3 (the final full day of the summit) was marked by celebratory moments, starting with the mainstage conversation on youth advocacy with CIS Chief External Engagement Officer Charles Thompson III, CIS Alumna Rosie Martinez and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. Alumnus Cyril Jefferson joined the conversation (virtually) in what was a full-circle moment. The crowd celebrated the news of his appointment as mayor of High Point, N.C. and Mayor Woodfin offered words of encouragement.
Alumni and affiliates shared their amazing journeys of success in a powerful storytelling session followed by a hands-on visit to the Jones Valley Teaching Farm Center for Food Education.
The day concluded with an entertaining and uplifting reception featuring poetry performed by local students from Parker High School; Tonee Shelton, Chief Impact Officer for CIS of the Heart of Texas; and CIS Alumnus Lawrence Omodele.
What we need to make sure is that we empower young people to understand that they can achieve anything they want and what achievement looks like is different for every person. . . we as adults need to make sure we understand, we present those options to them, and they know what’s available.
– Randall Woodfin, Birmingham Mayor
The Achieve In Life Summit not only identified challenges young people face, but it also provided a platform for action. The summit was a catalyst for change and a reminder that when we come together with a shared vision, barriers can be dismantled and pathways to success can be paved for generations to come.
Thank you to all the CIS team members who worked tirelessly to bring the summit to life, our generous corporate partner Whataburger and the City of Birmingham for welcoming us and providing the perfect backdrop for this magical experience.