Remarks of Secretary Julián Castro
Promise Zones Academic Convening
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
Friday, September 23, 2016

As prepared for delivery.

Good afternoon, everyone.

Thank you, Tara, for that kind introduction and for being such an outstanding partner in the Promise Zones Initiative.

I also want to recognize the entire team on the Community Solutions Task Force, on the Domestic Policy Council, at OMB, and at HUD for making this important convening possible.

Thank you, as well, to someone I'm proud to call a friend, Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz, who'll be joining you later today. Cecilia's creativity and courage have inspired some of the most enduring successes of the Obama Administration and I'm so grateful for her partnership.

And I have to say a special "thank you" to my colleagues at the U.S. Department of Agriculture - any U-DA folks in the house? Please give my regards to Secretary Vilsack. 

His leadership is a big reason why President Obama's vision for the Promise Zones Initiative is becoming a reality in communities all across our nation.

And the President's vision is as simple as it is powerful: That where a child in our nation grows up should never determine where that child ends up. We haven't met that fundamental goal yet, but we're moving in the right direction.

So before I go any further, I want to recognize all the folks here who're currently leading a Promise Zones effort in their community - can you raise your hands? You're doing more than simply changing lives -you're helping to change the trajectory for an entire generation of Americans. 

Communities that some people wrote off long ago - in the coming decades, they're going to be neighborhoods of promise and opportunity. We can't thank you enough. Please give yourselves a big hand - you deserve it.

Now I think it's fair to say that a majority of the leaders here didn't raise your hands. And that's a good thing. Because today, we get a chance to make the case for Promise Zones and convince you to join us on this journey of partnership and possibility. And I think those two words really sum up what Promise Zones is all about.

The first word, partnerships, is at the heart of this effort.

Long before the President was a politician, he was a community organizer. And he designed this initiative to be led by the folks who know their communities best:

Local elected leaders, local educators, and local entrepreneurs - all coming together to develop a comprehensive local plan for community prosperity.

The President also realizes that there are just some challenges that communities can't solve on their own, no matter how good their plans are.  So Promise Zones pairs federal muscle to local know-how to boost investment and drive change that, in some cases, local groups have been pushing for but just didn't have the resources to make happen.

It's a model that's at the heart of so much of the progress we've seen since President Obama came into office. And it's a model that depends on the close partnership of institutions like the ones represented here today. Whether you're a community nonprofit, a research hospital, or a university, your role as an anchor institution just can't be overstated to the success of efforts like Promise Zones.

First off, you have as much of a stake in the success of these neighborhoods as anyone - many of you have been rooted in these communities for decades.

You've been a source of innovation, as well as an employer and economic engine in so many hard hit neighborhoods. And Promise Zones is an effort that will help you to build on that already important legacy. You also have the expertise needed to measure the results of our work - and that's critical. 

As I learned when I was San Antonio's Mayor and as I've seen time and again as HUD Secretary, you can't manage what you don't measure.

Promise Zones has evaluation built in at every stage. We want to know what works, what doesn't, and how we can take our successes and replicate them - not just for one community, but for communities all across our nation. And the commitment of anchor institutions is absolutely essential to achieving those goals.

The second word I mentioned that's at the heart of this effort is possibility.

The President challenged every community that applied for a Promise Zones designation to dream big. 

With renewed support, with a dedicated team of career public servants, with an infusion of new investment, what could you do for people in neighborhoods that face some of the most serious challenges? Neighborhoods plagued by high crime rates, low graduation rates, and job markets with few, if any, ladders into the middle class.

How many lives could be saved by early interventions that turn young people away from the streets and keep them in school?

How many brighter futures could we help create by transforming food deserts into places where parents can afford to buy local, fresh produce for their families?

How many job markets could we help turn around - job markets that in the future won't just support careers, but will help foster entrepreneurs too?

This kind of transformational change can't happen in a single year or, even, in a single Administration. That's why Promise Zones is a ten-year effort that connects communities to federal liaisons to help city leaders put their existing resources to better use.

Promise Zones also get priority consideration for new federal funding. So far, 13 Promise Zone communities from the first two rounds of competition have secured more than $550 million in federal funding - support that's attracting additional investment from the private sector. And we expect the eight communities that were designated as Promise Zones this past summer will see similar investments.

Promise Zone communities also get support from five full-time AmeriCorps VISTA team members who're experts at helping organizations build capacity and recruit and manage volunteers. And President Obama has been working with Congress to make a number of tax incentives available to businesses located in Promise Zones - incentives for hiring local residents and making capital investments to improve neighborhoods.

I'm proud to say that since the President launched Promise Zones in 2014, we've already begun seeing some incredible work to improve the odds for millions of Americans. Communities like West Philadelphia and East San Antonio, in my hometown. Both were among the first five communities designated as Promise Zones. 

In West Philadelphia, Promise Zones is helping to create new early childhood education initiatives, an educational Promise Corps to bolster college and career readiness, and an expansion of food programs for low-income Philadelphians.

And in East San Antonio, the initiative has helped improve area charter schools and create new vocational training programs at community colleges, all while bolstering the public school district. In fact, graduation rates at San Antonio's Sam Houston High School have risen nearly 40 percent since the first federal investments.

In only two years, we've seen communities that were grappling with all the touchstones of struggling neighborhoods - weak local economies, high rates of joblessness and crime, low graduation rates - jumpstart businesses, improve schools, reduce crime, and make opportunity not just an idea, but a reality for so many people.

That's the power of the Promise Zones initiative. 

We're proud of the work we've done so far. And we're eager to do as much as we can to move our nation closer to fulfilling the basic promise that in America a zip code should only matter for getting your mail, and never for determining how far you go in life.

So that's my argument. Promise Zones puts local leaders in the driver's seat to transform their communities in ways that will benefit families for generations to come.

But as Levar Burton famously said, "You don't have to take my word for it."

This afternoon, you'll hear from some of the leaders whose work has been central to the success we've seen thanks to the Promise Zones effort. And it's a lineup of "big brains" - I'm probably one of the only people you'll hear from today who doesn't have a Ph.D.

First, my friend and colleague, HUD's Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research Kathy O'Regan, will talk about research and evaluation.

Then you'll hear about the importance of community engagement from the Director of the NYU Wagner Innovation Labs, Professor Neil Kleiman.

And Dr. David Maurrasse, who leads the Anchor Institutions Task Force, will discuss why those partnerships are so vital.

Later, you'll have the chance to connect with colleagues from other institutions. Some of them are already part of this effort, so please talk to them and learn the difference that Promise Zones is making in their communities.

The central message of today's convening can be summed up in three words - or an Uncle Sam poster - We Want You.

We want your partnership, we want your insight, and we want your expertise to help us lift up these communities and transform the lives of folks who need someone in their corner the most. Will you join us?

Let's make today's convening another victory for communities that are on the road to rebound thanks to Promise Zones.

Thank you.


Content Archived: February 9, 2018