Real Change Starts from the Ground Up

Depicted is President Obama when he served as a community organizer in the South Side of Chicago.

My journey to the White House began as a community organizer in a poor neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, working with people to help improve their lives.

An organizer’s work comes with little sleep, little pay, and a lot of sacrifice. There are many days of disappointment. But there are also days when you see real change. A family that can afford to see a doctor. A teacher who sparks a student’s love of learning. A neighborhood that’s a little healthier and safer for our children. Successes like these taught me about the power and importance of ordinary people coming together to create a better vision — their own vision — for the future.

This lesson — that real change starts from the ground up — has driven my work as President. So over the past seven years, we’ve worked to develop a new, smarter, more collaborative approach to how the federal government engages with local communities. We’ve put citizens, community groups, and local leaders at the center of our efforts. We’ve streamlined and targeted federal resources to get folks the support they need. And we’re using data to learn from our efforts and share what works.

Today, we’re partnering closely with more than 1,800 communities across the country, bringing federal and local government together with nonprofits, businesses, and community residents to boost opportunity for more Americans. And in 2014 we launched what we call Promise Zones. They’re communities that develop a holistic plan to ensure that every child’s course in life is determined not by the zip code she’s born in, but by the scope of her dreams. To date, 13 urban, rural, and tribal poverty communities have been designated Promise Zones, where the federal government is working hand-in-hand with local community leaders to create jobs, increase graduation rates, build more affordable housing, reduce violent crime in our neighborhoods, and much more.

And it’s working.

In Los Angeles, thanks to our investments, especially in science, technology, engineering, and math education, more high school students growing up in poverty are prepared to succeed in college.

In San Antonio, the community expanded early learning programs, and implemented free job training and certifications in fields like nursing, manufacturing, and information technology.

In Southeast Kentucky, one high school saw its graduation rate soar from 67 to 99 percent, thanks to ongoing community efforts and leadership, a new education plan, and support from AmeriCorps VISTA service members.

So today, we’re announcing the third and final round of nine new Promise Zone designations. Congratulations to Nashville, South Los Angeles, Atlanta, Evansville, San Diego, Spokane Tribe of Indians in Washington, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, North Dakota, Southwest Florida, and Puerto Rico’s Ceiba, Fajardo, and Naguado Municipalities. Each of these Promise Zones is prepared to do what it takes to strengthen their communities and lift people’s lives. And we’re going to be your partner every step of the way.

This is what it looks like when we come together, look out for one another, and roll up our sleeves to do the hard work of change. That’s when America is at our best. And that’s how we’ll ensure that all of our children have the opportunity to achieve their dreams.