What is your personal story?
I grew up in a working-class family in Stone Mountain, GA, the proud son of Nigerian and Colombian immigrants. I’ll never forget my Dad going back to school to get a bachelor’s degree in his early 40s. As a full-time student, he took on odd jobs as a janitor and ice cream man to provide for our family. My brother and I often accompanied my Dad, emptying out waste bins on school nights, or doling out popsicles in our neighborhood. These childhood experiences reinforced values of hard work, sacrifice and the value of a quality education.
I took these lessons with me to Duke University, where I studied Public Policy and Economics. After a brief stint with Citigroup, I joined the United States Peace Corps as a Children, Youth, and Family Services Volunteer in the Philippines. My Peace Corps assignment changed my life. It was a once in a lifetime experience to represent my country and deepened my passion for servant leadership.
I went on to complete a Master in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School of Government. After wrapping up, I moved back home to Atlanta and worked for the City of Atlanta’s Workforce Development Agency, helping unemployed residents access training and develop skills to gain quality employment. In Fall 2017, I joined Next Generation Men & Women (Next Gen) as their new Executive Director. It’s been a crazy ride, but I wouldn’t change anything about the journey.
As the Executive Director of Next Generation Men & Women, dedicated to closing the opportunity gap for Metro Atlanta High School students, what drives your passion to help low income high school students?
As a Black man, whose life was transformed by education and mentorship, this work is personal. There’s no better investment than in our young people. I’m blessed to see their talent and gifts on display each and every day. Our students are beautiful and inspiring. However, too many Black youth in Atlanta, and across the country, are victim to economic hardship and structural racism. Real opportunity should not be determined by race, class or where you call home. All young people deserve the best that we have to offer. Unfortunately, we are falling short — especially for our Black and brown youth.
This reality gives way to the worst outcome for any young person: a loss of excitement and hope for what’s ahead in life. Once that belief is gone, it’s hard to recover, graduate and find success in career and future plans. We can break the cycle of poverty gripping our Black youth and families by restoring systems that provide real, quality educational opportunity. The gap between affluent and low-income youth, in terms of educational enrichment and support, is too wide — and we’re losing our most precious asset in the process — our youth.
These deep equity challenges — poverty, race, opportunity — can’t be solved alone and in a vacuum. Solutions require compassion, collective impact and enough resources to reverse decades of hardship and pain. So, Next Gen literally builds a locally sourced and diverse community in support of Atlanta youth, including: families, educators, college students, professionals, colleges and companies. We call it our “Village”, taking after the African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child”. My entire Next Gen team goes hard every single day, to create real on-ramps to opportunity for the youth we serve. We're not just building community here in Atlanta, but a model to replicate in other parts of the country where a lack of opportunity is holding back youth and communities from thriving. My “why” is clear and our “village” keeps me grounded and moving forward.
What are the greatest needs you perceive that your students have, a based on the challenges this year?
Never before have I seen such high levels of depression and anxiety felt by our students — coupled with low levels of motivation attributed to virtual instruction overload and fatigue. When you factor that into the greater dual health and economic crises devastating Black and brown households, it’s the perfect storm of loss for our children — educational, social-emotional, and supportive resources.
Our #1 priority is keeping a sense of community intact for our students while they are physically separated from their peers, teachers, college mentors and local partners. Students are looking for their own informal space to connect, confide and learn, so we have been able to recreate those environments leveraging social media and interactive virtual platforms. Personalized mentorship and out of the box virtual exposure opportunities to new places and people have served as effective stopgaps in the absence of 1-on-1s and trips to colleges and local companies. It hasn’t been perfect, and we’re literally building as we fly, but I’m so proud of how our team has met the moment with intention, grit and creativity.
What do you believe the rest of the US and the world can learn based on your experiences with these students?
That our children are gifts to society — not problems that need fixing. You would be surprised how far we can go, together, if we had enough compassion to see and treat every young person as an untapped reward to the world. This is evident when you put a group of Black, curious and bright students in front of a few everyday Atlanta professionals. Yes, the interactions open multiple doors, allowing the students to experience a range of possibilities available to them after high school. However, these experiences are often just as impactful for the professionals, too. They learn more about the students — their backgrounds, talents and humanity — and cultivate new connections to, and appreciation of, the Atlanta community that may not have existed before. We can do this. We can deliver on their and our great promise. But it can’t be done alone. It requires all of us to expect more and do more — especially those in a position of power. If we get this right, we can unleash a world of unimaginable benefits for the United States and World
Bio: Phil is the Executive Director of Next Generation Men & Women, an Education nonprofit closing the opportunity gap for under-resourced high school students in Atlanta through exposure and support to graduate prepared for college and career. Prior to that, Phil served as the Director of Performance Management at WorkSource Atlanta, as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines and was a Sales and Trading Analyst with Citigroup in New York City.
The current President of the Organized Neighbors of Summerhill, Phil is a 2020 Atlanta Business Chronicle 40 under Forty honoree, 2019 Atlanta Regional Commission RLI Alum, LEAD Atlanta Class of 2017, and is passionate about leading systems change that strengthen communities and improve the lives of children, youth and families.
Raised in Stone Mountain, Georgia, Phil is a proud son of Nigerian and Colombian immigrants. He earned his B.A. in Public Policy Studies from Duke University and Masters in Public Policy, with a concentration in Social and Urban Policy, from Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Phil lives in Summerhill with his wife Sabrina and loves college hoops, travel and the occasional do-it-yourself home project.