Elite Learners: Uplifting Youth Through Education and Opportunity

Elite Learners: Uplifting Youth Through Education and Opportunity


As students around the country face the challenges of remote learning, historically under-resourced communities have been hardest hit. COVID-19 has magnified deeply rooted inequities that often lead to incarceration, and community organizations like Elite Learners Inc., based in Brownsville, Brooklyn, have also needed to adapt.

“[COVID-19] was really a shocker, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before,” said Elite’s Founder and Executive Director, Camara Jackson, an outspoken advocate for educational empowerment. “We really had a high demand in this community for just the basic technology that [Elite’s students] needed to get online.”

To help meet the resource gap, The Fortune Society’s David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy recently partnered with Elite to fund remote tutoring sessions for up to 24 of Elite’s students. Fortune’s Policy Center Collective, a group of staff working collaboratively towards social justice reform, selected Elite Learners for DRCPP’s first community initiative because of its impactful work engaging Brownsville’s enthusiastic youth in educational programming as early interventions that prevent justice involvement.

“The Fortune Society giving us the tutoring grant to be able to do one-on-one tutoring sessions was huge,” Ms. Jackson said.

Ms. Jackson also spoke at the Policy Center Collective’s recent panel, “COVID-19 and the Birth-To-Prison Pipeline.”

Ms. Jackson is a Brownsville native who cherished and found joy in school-based programs when she was young. In 2016, she decided to foster the same programming for the community she loves by starting Elite Learners, which now also has a location in East Flatbush. Over the years, Ms. Jackson has witnessed a complete transformation in students, some of whom have gone on to work for Elite and support youth in meeting their goals and passions.

Elite helps disrupt what is sometimes known as the “birth-to prison pipeline,” the social and economic conditions, lack of resources, and policies that disproportionately lead Black and Brown youth to the criminal justice system.

“To me, [the birth-to-prison-pipeline] means a ‘lack of.’ It's really about not having the necessities to be able to take care of yourself,” said Ms. Jackson.

These inequities in resource allocation, combined with a racist policing and criminal justice system, make Brownsville one of the communities most impacted by incarceration.

Before COVID-19, Elite also extended its community to incarcerated people through programming on Rikers Island. Before the pandemic, Elite had a strong presence on Rikers, facilitating workshops on topics such as gang intervention and mentorship.

“One of the things I [did] when I [would] go into a new jail or a new part of the facility, is I look around to see if there’s anybody I know from my community,” Ms. Jackson recalled. “Because there's so many incarcerated people from my own community. A lot of our fathers, a lot of our brothers.”

When the pandemic hit and visitation was prohibited, Elite Learners continued to build community and encourage participation by delivering letters and workshop materials. 

As Elite continues to overcome the challenges of remote learning, Ms. Jackson stresses the need for leaders to invest in communities and create opportunities for youth in their communities.

“We really need to come together and invest in our community-based organizations that can touch people directly,” she said. “I think that if we really take a leap at getting some of this stuff started and building these own systems within our own communities, we would be further ahead.”

Photo courtesy of Elite Learners, Inc.

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