Erica Coffey, Director of Global Engagement and Inclusion, who teaches the class, invited Mr. Gordon as part of Collegiate's Responsible Citizenship Speaker Series. The Responsible Citizenship Initiative comprises of eight areas of school life under one umbrella to build a cohesive curriculum. The eight pillars are: Global Engagement, Inclusion, Economic Literacy, Entrepreneurship, Sustainability, Ethics, Civic Engagement and Service Learning.
Mr. Gordon, a native Richmonder and lawyer, most recently served as CEO of the Greater Richmond Chapter of the Red Cross, Executive Director of the William Byrd Community House and the first executive director of Homeward, an agency that coordinated services for the homeless.
He explained how his office, created in 2014, exists in order to ensure that community residents with low wealth have a reliable, easy-to-reach ladder to build wealth. Mr. Gordon said that at 25-26%, the poverty rate in Richmond was too high and was a challenge to combat.
“This is not easy,” he said. “It’s complicated.”
He spoke candidly to students about the complexities. It can be tricky to talk to people who may technically be below the poverty line, but don’t see it that way, Mr. Gordon says.
“They think, ‘This is my life,’” he said. “'This is how my grandparents lived. This is how my parents lived.' So we have to turn the page on the haves and the have nots.”
His office aims to expand workforce development, target job creation and improve educational outcomes, regional transportation and affordable housing. He told students that we must challenge ourselves to ensure we have a more navigable system for people because it’s a luxury to think about an education strategy for your children when you’re worried about feeding them.
“We must lift up the community by providing more pathways to a better job,” Mr. Gordon said. “We must have a broader dialogue between us and the community. We’re in the midst of that messy conversation.”
Students in the class have been working with the nonprofit HomeAgain to assess how they could help those requiring its services. HomeAgain assists people who are experiencing homelessness find and maintain a home. After talking with people at the nonprofit, students found what they wanted and needed was pillows. A small comfort item to be sure, but something they could take with them when they moved to a new home. So during Homecoming, students sold apple cider to raise money. This week, they will hold a bake sale. Based on how much money they raise, students will determine what needs they can meet.
Mrs. Coffey’s students’ actions go along with what Mr. Gordon told the class.
“Pause and think about what people really need,” he said. “And ask them before you help them so they can tell you what they need.”