Podcast: Byron Sanders on Closing the Opportunity Gap in Dallas

After attending a predominantly black elementary school that felt like a family, Byron Sanders went to a largely Hispanic magnet middle school, and then an affluent mostly white high school on the other side of Dallas. Each shift was a baptism of different expectations, resources, and opportunities.

Despite meager circumstances, Sanders’ mom fought hard to make provide rich learning experiences for him and his siblings. As Executive Director of nonprofit Big Thought, Sanders (@ByronKSanders) is trying to do the same for a couple hundred thousand kids in Dallas.

Big Thought is a 30-year-old Dallas nonprofit attacking the opportunity gap by bringing creative opportunities to youth that need them most.

Thriving Minds is an after school program where teaching artists guide young people in creative experiences.

Through afterschool clubs and curriculum, DaVerse helps middle and high school students find their voice. Several times each year, students from around the region present live music, art, and spoken word productions at a local venue.

Creative Solutions is an arts-as-workforce intervention program for adjudicated youth. An opportunity advisor engages youth in the arts, helps channel resiliency, explores possible futures, and connects youth to resources. The trauma-informed program culminates in a big musical production or gallery display. Sponsoring municipalities save money because the program reduces recidivism.

Dallas City of Learning is connecting youth with low- and no-cost learning experiences that cultivate creativity, build social and emotional skills and boost academic achievement. As the coordinating agency with over 700 partners, Big Thought supports a citywide network of out of school learning experiences that help students discover new interests, develop skill and create pathways to future success. Almost 70,000 students accessed summer learning programs last year. Participation correlates with improving attendance, test scores, and social-emotional learning.

With a focus on creativity and an array of art rich programs, “We’re confronting radical differences in opportunity,” said Sanders. Young adults should not only be asked what they want to be in the future. They should not have to wait, they have the agency and power to make a difference right now.

Key Takeaways:
[:50] Jessica gives a quick announcement in regards to the coronavirus pandemic.
[1:35] Tom welcomes Byron Sanders to the podcast.
[2:01] Byron speaks about what it was like to grow up and go to school in Dallas.
[6:05] Byron speaks about how his mother inspired his organization, Big Thought.
[9:54] Byron shares what he learned about building a business as a young man.
[13:00] How to facilitate the innate capacity for growth that a student has. Byron also describes why they prefer that term opportunity gap as opposed to the achievement gap.
[16:00] Jessica chimes in to let listeners know about the Getting Through microsite by Getting Smart.
[16:40] What led Byron to lead the nonprofit organization, Big Thought?
[21:52] What does Big Thought do?
[25:33] Byron describes their programs at Big Thought.
[29:11] Byron describes DaVerse, a program at Big Thought that was created in partnership with Journeyman Ink.
[31:21] Tom and Byron describe Deep Ellum in Dallas, Texas.[32:02] Byron describes what Dallas City of Learning is and what its goal is.
[35:03] Byron speaks about their Learning Partners program.
[36:20] Byron describes Striving Minds, their award-winning afterschool program.
[37:52] Is Byron’s work largely in Dallas County these days?
[39:19] Tom and Byron give some plugs for all the other good things happening right now in Dallas County!
[42:45] What else does Byron hope to come to fruition in Dallas County?
[47:40] Tom thanks Byron for all the work that he does and for joining the Getting Smart podcast!

Mentioned in This Episode:
Big Thought
Byron Sanders
Destination Imagination
Journeyman Ink
Dallas City of Learning
Dallas County Promise

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Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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