When Vision Meets Village
When Bobby Bradley met Mark Stearns for the first time 8 years ago, she had no idea what kind of journey she was beginning. Mark had requested a meeting with Bobby and her executive team at CST to discuss his need for computers for the young students his organization was serving at Lincoln Village Ministry. As he spoke of the dire circumstances the children and families of this small community were living in and the remarkable and life-altering ways in which Lincoln Village Ministry were helping them, the team was inspired to do more than provide the requested used computers: they purchased new ones. Bobby took that inspiration a step further and began volunteering as a tutor. The experience was profound, and when Bobby talked to Mark about helping him expand the scope of the ministry into another neighborhood he replied, “Bobby, there is plenty of poverty to go around.”
From there, Bobby and her lifelong friend, Gloria Batts, started down a path that would ultimately lead to the creation of Village of Promise. They built upon the success of Lincoln Village Ministry, and combined it with the strategies of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a national model for breaking the cycle of generational poverty. The central idea was to address all of the issues facing children and their families within a defined geographical area, and the first decision that needed to be made was identifying the neighborhood in Huntsville that needed the most help. After poring over poverty and education statistics, the choice was clear—and shocking. Huntsville’s neighborhood with the most urgent need of assistance was the very neighborhood in which Bobby and Gloria grew up.
Bobby describes the neighborhood of her childhood as a true village. “At the time,” she says, “it was a new African-American neighborhood, and people owned their own homes. These were dual parent families, they were all hard workers, and everybody looked out for one another. They realized the importance of education so there was always a push for the children in the neighborhood to take their studies seriously. It was assumed that everyone would go to college, and that after that, everyone would go into whatever career they chose.”
Another unique quality of this neighborhood is the great influence that missionaries had on it. In the 1950s, Catholic nuns and priests came to Huntsville from Wisconsin to start a private mission school for African-American children. Then called St. Joseph’s Mission School, it is known today as Holy Family School. The missionaries canvased the neighborhood and invited parents to send their children to this new school. “At that time it was a challenge and a sacrifice to pay for secondary education,” Bobby recalls. “But our parents valued the opportunity that was presented. The focus on academic skills and non-cognitive skills such as discipline, respect, and spiritual well-being, created the framework and foundation that allowed us to succeed in school and in life.”
These two friends combined the experience of their childhood with the expertise gleaned from their careers as a business owner and social worker to change the course of their former neighborhood and the lives of everyone currently living in it. The mission for the Village of Promise is to eradicate generational poverty one neighborhood at a time, and the vision is that every child who remains in the Village of Promise pipeline will graduate from college. The success of their efforts proves that when a vision meets a village, anything is possible.