Summer Search

week 27:  this week i'm gonna... help young people to soar

Jabali Sawicki stands on a summit during his 1993 Summer Search backpacking trip to Alaska

Jabali Sawicki stands on a summit during his 1993 Summer Search backpacking trip to Alaska

In 1993, at the age of 15, Jabali Sawicki was fatherless, broke, and lacking direction. Summer Search took him in and led him around the world in a journey to find himself.  He traveled from his home in urban San Francisco to rural Maine, where he built a kayak and traveled 250 miles up the coast. He backpacked the wilds of Alaska for 30 days, where he endured downpours, ice knolls, and river crossings. And he spent time in Western Samoa, where he immersed himself in the culture and served the community.

“When I was on top of the world, exhausted, hungry and proud, I realized that I had accomplished the impossible,” he remembers of his time in the wilderness. “All other struggles, obstacles and challenges paled in comparison. The streets I grew up on, the skeptics, poverty and race, everything that stood between me and my success could be scaled like the frozen peaks of Alaska.”

Sawicki and one of his students at Excellence Boys Charter School

Sawicki and one of his students at Excellence Boys Charter School

Sawicki was motivated to become an educator, and graduated from Oberlin College with degrees in both biology and philosophy. He then earned a Masters in Educational Administration from Columbia University Teacher's College, and became the founding principal at Excellence Boys Charter School in Brooklyn, NY.

After just five years in operation, Excellence Boys became the number one performing elementary school out of 700 public schools in New York City. Says Sawicki, "We teach students how to read, how to do math, but the way I judge whether or not I have done my job is whether or not my work that day helped young individual scholars become better human beings. What Summer Search taught me and what I try to instill in our scholars is the notion that leadership has to be about helping us understand how we are connected, how we are stronger if we are unified."

In 2012, Sawicki left Excellence Boys Charter School with its first graduating class of students. His story has come full circle, and he is now inspiring a new generation of youth as a mentor with Summer Search and through his new project, Black. Man. Teach., which chronicles the stories of black male educators across the United States. Currently, black males represent less than 2% of our nation’s teacher workforce, and Sawicki believes that increasing this number is integral to the overall success of young black students. Black. Man. Teach. provides a deeper understanding of what drives and motivates current black male teachers in order to inspire more individuals to the field.

Portraits of black educators from  Black. Man. Teach.

Portraits of black educators from Black. Man. Teach.

Summer Search is a national youth development nonprofit that works with low-income high school students to transform what they believe is possible for themselves. They help students in seven cities across the country develop the skills and character traits they need to become college-educated leaders who give back to their families and communities.

The Summer Search program selects students in their sophomore year of high school based on need, character, and potential. Students are given a full scholarship to a 2-3 week summer wilderness expedition, where they are given a broader world-view and an opportunity to discover their strengths and capabilities. The following summer (between junior and senior year of high school), student experiences can vary - from a second wilderness expedition, to academic enrichment on a college campus, to community service (either domestic or abroad) - depending on the student's interests and needs.

As the students proceed through their senior year of high school, they are given college and financial aid advisement, helping to ensure the best possible collegiate match for each student based on interest, achievement, scholarship, and financial aid. Once the students enter college, they continue to receive support and mentoring (especially the first two years) to ensure their continued success. And upon graduation, they enter the Alumni Network, where they join the ranks of other Summer Search leaders giving back to their families and communities.

The Summer Search Program is life-changing and lifelong. This past summer, the largest class of Summer Search cohorts ever—nearly 1,000 students—hiked 31,730 miles, paddled 16,415 miles, climbed 32,860 feet, and completed 27,803 community service hours and 13,924 hours of academic study in 20 countries, with 30 states visited.

Armani White

Armani White

One of the students lucky enough to be taught and mentored by Jabali Sawicki is Armani White. Sponsored by Summer Search, Armani spent one summer in Panama, where he built a park alongside community members.

"I learned that hard work, dedication, and passion - as well as honesty - can chip away at the barriers that separate humans from one another. If we could do what we did in Panama in two months, imagine what we could do back home with way more time."

Armani is now a 1st generation college graduate of Wesleyan University and works at Summer Search as a mentor. Like his teacher, Jabali Sawicki, Armani works to spread awareness and end different forms of oppression that target young men of color. His vision is for a better world where we can all share in its abundance in an equitable fashion.

See Armani and Sawicki speak at the recent Summer Search Leadership Dinner in the video below:

Notes for this week:

  • Nothing says "summer" like July 4th! Happy Independence Day!
  • Our collective givetwig donation will provide transportation, boots, backpack and all essential gear for one student’s life-changing summer wilderness expedition.
  • For further information regarding Summer Search, please check out their website.

this week i'm gonna donate to Summer Search.

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