“Education remains one of the Black community’s most enduring values. It is sustained by the belief that freedom and education go hand in hand, that learning and training are essential to economic quality and independence.” That quote by famed educator Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), is as much a declaration as it is a warning call—one that fellow educators like Janice Jackson has taken seriously. This week the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools announced that her initiative, Hope Chicago, will award $1 billion in college scholarships to 70,000 Chicago students and 6,000 parents over the next decade, changing the trajectory of families and communities all across The Windy City. 

Hope Chicago’s scholarship model is unique. Not only do Chicago youth benefit from the funding, so do their parents. This multi-generational approach aims to increase the likelihood for college completion while creating pathways to economic success for multiple generations of Chicagoans. In a Pew Research study conducted in 2021, researchers found that the household incomes of first-generation college graduates lag those of other graduates. In addition, second-generation college graduates have substantially more wealth than first-generation college graduates. The two-generation model being offered by Hope Chicago gives parents and guardians the opportunity to go (or go back to) school, whether it to two- or four-year college or industry training or certification programs, greatly increasing the economic outcomes for their children.

“As a life-long educator, I understand the barriers that college students face as they enter the higher education system,” Jackson tells EBONY. “Many of those—financial, social, psychological and emotional—have been further exaggerated by the COVID-19 pandemic hindering student success.” Jackson shares that the mission of Hope Chicago’s multigenerational approach is to help lift whole families out of poverty.

On Tuesday, the entire student bodies at Benito Juarez Community Academy High School and Al Raby High School, 1,800 students in total, received a surprise visit from Hope Chicago. During this special event, they were told that they and their parents would be receiving full, debt-free college scholarships to partner colleges and universities. These students are just a fraction of those that the initiative will touch over the next several years. Just this week, Hope Chicago will surprise 4,000 students and their parents with full, debt-free college scholarships through surprise announcements. The Chicago public high schools are located on the South, Southwest, or West Sides. 

“Chicago has a bold vision and an ambitious goal,” says Jackson. “With the help of the community, civic and business leaders, we have the opportunity to redefine the education landscape in our city.” 

The 4,000 students impacted are from high schools with predominantly Black and Hispanic student bodies. Students, affectionately named “Hope Scholars” will be able to use their fully funded scholarships at one of Hope Chicago’s 20 partner colleges, universities, or other educational programs across the state of Illinois. The initiative covers tuition and wraparound services and support, including non-tuition costs like books, food, and housing as well as mentoring and counseling starting in high school. Established in September 2021, Hope Chicago is aiming to redefine the education landscape in Chicago through this transformative multi-generation scholarship model.