Growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1960s and 70s, Odell Cleveland leveraged his basketball skills to land a college scholarship. The 6-foot-3 Cleveland would go on to earn a place in the University of South Carolina Upstates Athletics Hall of Fame.
Im one of those individuals who came from just a poor, poor background, and because at the time I was able to play sports in America, I was able to go to college, get an education. I saw that education itself helped turn my life around, said Cleveland, now chief administrative officer at the 4,000-member Mount Zion Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.
In addition to his church role, Cleveland chairs the advisory board for the college completion initiative Degrees Matter!, which receives funding from the Lumina Foundation, an Indiana-based nonprofit that tries to get more students enrolled in college.
Hes not the only one who thinks that houses of worship can partner with local postsecondary schools to preach the importance of higher education.
Those partnerships are a reoccuring theme in several of the nearly 60 cities including Greensboro, North Carolina, which for the last four years have been competing for a $1 million prize for most significantly boosting their college completion rates, said Noel Harmon, the national director of Talent Dividend, the name of the competition.
The program is a project of the national nonprofit CEOs for Cities, whose mission focuses on the bottom up change happening in cities as federal and state governments languish in hyper-partisan and dysfunctional behavior.