For the past seven years, Khari Brown has been on a mission. As executive director of Capital Partners for Education, he and the organization he oversees have helped youth from some of Washington, D.C.’s poorest communities have a shot at a better education. Since the program’s inception, over 100 students have graduated from D.C.-area private high schools with the help of CPE.
Now, CPE’s supporters in the business community are helping to keep the momentum going. On Saturday, May 10, Brown, and his fellow CPE staff and directors, will gather with local business leaders for an exclusive fundraising dinner, featuring famed chef Michel Richard of Citronelle. In advance of the event, Brown spoke with ExecutiveBiz about CPE’s mission, and the executive tools that have helped him succeed in his leadership position.
What got you interested in working with Capital Partners for Education?
Khari Brown: I was running a fitness business, and also serving as a high school basketball coach. In working with my players — the young men I was coaching — I got really interested in education and started pursuing a masters in education. Along the way, I decided that I wanted to get involved in the nonprofit field. I was actually thinking of starting my own nonprofit organization that would combine basketball and fitness with tutoring. In looking into how I might launch this venture, I got connected with Capital Partners for Education, which was doing similar work mentoring low-income high school students. An opportunity came up with them about seven years ago. My stay here has been a great fit. We’ve been able to really grow this program, and we’re looking to continue to expand it much further in the future.
What accounts for the growth and development that CPE has undergone over the past 7 years?
Khari Brown: The first thing is we have a great model. It’s a unique model, and we’re doing something that is pretty effective at helping reach a population in need. We’re having success, where a lot of other groups and schools are not, in getting low income high school students to go to college. In many cases, these kids are the first in their families to go to college — and come from communities where their peers are not having this sort of success. So, that’s the first thing. Second, we’ve been able to get a very engaged and a smart, good group of people to work together on this. I think that has been the biggest thing — our board and our staff.
How has CPE managed to succeed in a competitive non-profit arena?
Khari Brown: It all goes back to our model, and that model is very simple. We’re doing two things that most groups do separately. And the two things are access and support. As far as the access pieces, we’re helping kids whose public school options are very poor. We give them access to a private school where they are going to have high expectations and rigorous college preparatory curriculum. The second piece is that we provide a lot of other support. Our kids don’t have the same support systems that their peers do in private school. As I said, they are coming from families where they would be the first to go to college. Their families are not able to support them in the same way. So, we provide mentors and other enrichment support services that enable them to really work toward their potential.
You also mentioned the issue of having a solid team in place. What is the key to holding on to a good employee?
Khari Brown: One thing is that I’ve stayed here the whole time. That has given us stability. Some of the other keys are being able to provide an environment where people feel like they are contributing to something effective, and they really enjoy their job. We also offer competitive benefit packages and are flexible, particularly for employees with families. There are opportunities for advancement, too. So, as we’ve grown, our people’s portfolios have expanded also. And I think that has been enticing for people.
What motivates you on the job?
Khari Brown: I’m pretty fortunate because my job is really dynamic. I get to have meaningful interactions with our kids and see their success. I see them come in as freshmen and see them graduate. So, that is exciting to me, to know that we helped to send a young person to college who wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity.
What was a key challenge you faced early on in your leadership role, and how did you overcome it?
Khari Brown: Well, my second day at Capital Partners was 9-11. Like a lot of other organizations, we were concerned with how we were going to raise money. Our board was very good at expanding our donor base.
What are some tips or strategies that you could impart to other executives?
Khari Brown: It’s hard for me to speak for other executives. In my case, I think it’s important to just talk to people. At every event, I always go talk to families, or they feel comfortable coming up and talking to me. Just having open dialogues with people. If you are not doing that, then you are not going to know what is working and what is not working. Also, I know for me it’s important to remain energized about your job. You have to love what you are doing. If there was ever a day that I woke up and said I wasn’t motivated to go to work, I would find something else to do. You have to be in the right place, and that’s one of the things that I’ve been fortunate to have — a great board and being able to put together a great team.
Can you name a few of your greatest success stories — stories that have motivated you to continue with CPE?
Khari Brown: We have kids who by all accounts should not even be graduating high school— kids who have a parent who is in jail or overcoming tremendous odds and who are now the first in their families to even graduate high school. These kids overcome great tragedy and hardships, and are able to find a lot of success, like getting full scholarships to college. Being able to be a part of that is really fulfilling.