Inspired to Create Partnerships, part 1

By Brett Pawlowski

Following are remarks made by Brett Pawlowski at the Governor’s Awards Luncheon hosted by the Mississippi Association of Partners in Education on March 18, 2015.

I asked Suzanne what she wanted me to talk about, and she said that she just wanted me to say something inspiring, something that would set the tone as we recognize today’s award recipients.

And that sounds easy, doesn’t it? Partnership work is naturally inspiring. But I actually had a hard time with that. For 15 years, I’ve been talking to people about how to do partnerships. But I can’t recall ever having an opportunity to take a step back and talk about what I find so inspiring about it, and why it feels more like a calling than just a job.

So as I thought about this, I kept coming back to the same thing.

We all take inspiration from the lives of others from time to time. And at the time that I started getting into partnership work, I happened to come across the life story of Barry White, the singer, and found it to be really inspiring.

For the young people in the crowd, a few words about Barry White:

  •  He was one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time, with a number of gold and platinum singles, not to mention three Grammy awards.
  • He had the first official hit disco song – “Love’s Theme” – and followed it up with songs like “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” and “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe.”
  • He made the decision early in his career that all he would sing about was love.
  • And he had this great, low rumbling smooth voice – someone noted that “If chocolate fudge cake could sing, it would sound like Barry White.”Anyway, his story really touched me, and some of the things that happened in his life really tied in to some of the things I had been thinking about regarding partnerships. So I’d like to share a couple of events from his life with you, since they help explain why I find partnerships so powerful and so inspiring.

Troubled Youth

The first is that this man who sang about nothing but love actually had a pretty angry childhood. He was born in Galveston TX, but he grew up in south central LA. His brother Darryl, who he was very close with, was murdered in a clash with a rival gang, and at the age of 17, Barry White served four months in jail for stealing $30,000 worth of Cadillac tires.

While he was in jail, White heard Elvis Presley singing “It’s Now or Never” on the radio, and later on he said that that song had changed the course of his life.

I think sometimes of that young Barry White sitting in South Central LA, falling in with the wrong crowd and not realizing the incredible gift that was inside him.

And I think about how many thousands, or even millions, of young people are out there, just like him, ready to follow the right path if they could just be reached.

Barry White happened to hear the right song at the right time. But for most kids it will be a caring adult that provides that opportunity. And that’s the unique value of partnerships.

There’s plenty of evidence to back that up, and I’d like to share some of that with you:

  • The Metro Nashville Public Schools adopted a career pathways model for their high schools starting in 2005, and it’s a model that relies on active business participation in the schools. As a result, between 2005 and 2012:
    • Discipline referrals have dropped 13 percent
    • Graduation rates have risen from 55% to 78%
    • The average age of a gang member has increased from 16 to 22
  • There is a great body of evidence proving the value of mentoring.
    • Mentoring improves student attendance and attitudes toward school
    • Students who meet regularly with their mentors are 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school
    • Mentoring helps students improve their grades
    • Increases students’ knowledge and skills
    • More students are likely to pursue higher education
    • Reduces risk factors like teen parenthood and criminal behavior
    • Youth who meet regularly with their mentors are 46% less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs and 27% less likely to start drinking
  • The Gates Foundation released a report called The Silent Epidemic in 2006. They had surveyed recent high school dropouts, and one of the questions they asked was, what would have made a difference in your decision to stay in school? 81% said opportunities for real-world learning – like internships and other partnership-based efforts – would have made a difference for them.
  • Research from the Education and Employers Taskforce in the United Kingdom found that business/education partnerships:
    • make learning more enjoyable
    • affect students’ desire to do well in school
    • enhance learning
    • help students make better life decisions
    • and give them a better chance at upward social mobility.

The bottom line is that partnerships are proven time and again to have a major impact in the lives of children and young adults, and for all those young people out there making decisions about their futures, about who they want to be, like that young Barry White, connecting with a caring adult may be the single best way to help them make the right choices.


Stay tuned for next week’s segment, Inspired to Create Partnerships, part 2.