Yvette Cook, Usher’s New Look and an education movement with a radically effective peer to peer methodology that’s changing the lives of disadvantaged children and adolescents in America. For more ideas on Uprising and movements, cultural movements and movement marketing, follow Uprising!!! on Facebook. We’ll continue to publish brand-new columns on a regular basis. Hey, do us a favor and please give Uprising!!! a review on iTunes. Scott Goodson is the author of best-selling book ‘Uprising: how to build a brand and change the world by sparking cultural movements,’ available on Amazon.com. Scott has helped create and build some of the world’s most iconic brands. He is founder of StrawberryFrog the world’s first movement marketing agency.
Uprising Interview transcript
TEASE: [21:30 clip for tease at top of show ] I think that if we really want people to have an opportunity to have a wholesome, joyful life, then the opportunity to receive a proper education should be the right for all Americans. That’s my perspective. People talk about making America Great Again. I’m not really sure what that means, but if you want our country to be great, you have to have equal opportunity, you have to be able to invest in your people and you have to empower the citizens to really believe they have equal access to opportunity. Right, now I don’t think that’s the case in the United States–at least for not everybody.
INTRO: Our country is built on the promise that all men are created equal.
But, it’s been proven time and time again that that is not true. Everyone is not awarded the same possibilities or have the same opportunities available to them.
Access to education seems to be at the center of this social inequality. 1.3 million students drop out of school every year. Meanwhile, 75% of all crime is committed by high school dropouts.
These statistics show there is something wrong with our education system.
Our guest today on the Uprising pod is behind an educational movement as CEO and president of Usher’s New Look.
Please welcome to the Uprising Pod, Yvette Cook. Thank you so much for joining us, Yvette.
YVETTE: Thank you for inviting me.
SCOTT: Before we get into everything that you’re doing at Usher’s New Look, I want to start with a big question: What do you stand for and against as a human being?
YVETTE: That’s pretty easy. What I stand for is where I would like to begin. I stand for equality. I spent a lot of time advocating on behalf of the underserved communities. That’s not necessarily economically. Fighting on behalf of individuals that need somebody to advocate for them and really believing that at the end of the day when it’s all said and done and they talk about legacy. My legacy is that somebody’s life will be better because of one little thing that I did. I think that’s the positive side. I think it’s important that we all leave a footprint here when we are gone. I’d like my footprint to be that I’ve helped other people improve their life.
SCOTT: One way that you are helping the underserved is through education. What do you think of the state of education today in America? What challenges do we face?
YVETTE: The challenges are massive. Where do I start with that one? There’s so many challenges. I think at the base of it–the current system of education, which really came out of the industrial revolution–is antiquated and it is outdated. I think that we are expecting for individuals, especially children to learn in the methods that really don’t even resonate with them. I think from a technological perspective, we have not kept up with the perspective of how we are educating our children. I think if we really wanted to stay competitive, the United States has fallen so far behind in terms of their level of education in comparison to other countries. I think we need a complete overhaul. A complete overhaul. I’m really appalled by the fact that there are children that are entering second or third grade and not even reading on a kindergarten level. That really bothers me tremendously. Many of them manage to make it through high school and really not able to read or comprehend beyond a fifth grade level. I think the numbers speak for themselves. We have a lot of work to do. The system is broken. It needs to be completely broken down and be completely rebuilt from the ground up.
SCOTT: What would such a rebuild look like? How would that change America?
YVETTE: I think the outcomes would be very positive. I think the process would be very painful. As Americans, we are entrenched in tradition. Scholars will tell you there is great history. We’ve always done it this way. Believe me. I’m big on history. I consider myself somewhat of a historian. But, I think we have to learn from history, so that we can move forward into the future and I think the future of learning overall is changing right before our eyes. That includes training and learning in the workforce. That includes career readiness and preparation. That includes children in primary and secondary education. I think it would be very painful but it is something that is necessary. We have to do it. It’s just a matter of when we do it. It must happen. I think.
SCOTT: That’s something you are working towards at Usher’s New Look. Can you describe Usher’s New Look? What is your mission as an organization?
YVETTE: Our missions as an organization started out creating this next generation of informed leaders. If you stop and think about it, the youth today will make all of the decisions for us tomorrow and in the future. They are our future. What New Look done over the last 18 years is work with youth primarily coming out of underserved communities where they are not playing on a level playing field. We have worked tirelessly to help level that playing field so that these students can have dreams and aspirations and exposure and accessibility to go on and do great things. That really is our overarching mission. We found in the last few years that what we are really doing is transforming mindsets. A lot of our students have limited mindsets based on the zip code they’ve come out of or the school they’ve gone to. To be quite honest, sometimes based on the families they were born into. What we try to do is transform their mindset into larger and broader and expose them to an understanding that there is another way to live.
SCOTT: One way to start a movement or to fuel a movement is to transform mindsets. How are you doing that at Usher’s New Look?
YVETTE: We have several techniques. We have a pretty robust curriculum. What we start with is helping students identify their spark. What’s your passion? What is your purpose? What are your talents? Believe it or not I have three children of my own and I wish they all went through a program like this. Sometimes kids from more educated households or more privileged still don’t necessarily know what they want to do with their lives. We expose them to tools that help them figure it out if they don’t already know. If they do already know, we give them exposure. We might let them shadow someone like you for a day and find out what it is that you do and is this really what I want to do. That’s number one key: starting with spark. We call it Igniting the Spark. The second key is all of the learning and the training is all peer-to-peer led. If you think about it, we work with youth from ages 14 to 24–post college. If you think about it a 14 or 15-year-old doesn’t really want to have another adult standing in front of them preaching them anything. When you put a paper in front of them–someone who has already been some where they’ve been, someone who they can say oh my gosh that’s me. I can see me going there. You have instant credibility. You have instant attention, and guess what. They listen. Those are the two key components of what we do in our movement that really makes a huge difference.
SCOTT: Going off of Ignite Your Spark, why is it so important to identify your passion early on?
YVETTE: I am going to answer that in two parts. I am a certified life coach and I work with executives. I can’t tell you how many executives I work with who are maybe going through some kind of transition and don’t know what they like. They’ve been through a job for 10-15 years. This is what they’ve done. They built companies and built this great amount of success but they are not happy because they are not fulfilled. In starting with spark, I truly believe that if a person does what they love to do all day long, that’s not work. I don’t consider what I do work. I consider it me living in my purpose. That’s the backbone of our curriculum. If kids are inspired and see relevancy to finishing an education then all of a sudden the desire to drop out of school goes away. Most of our students–I wouldn’t say all of them–but 40 percent of our students say they were thinking about when they were going to drop out of school. Then they enter our program. Once they see the relevancy of education, then they stay in school.
SCOTT: Your curriculum is peer-to-peer, which means your graduates help the younger students and guide them through the process. How is this model beneficial for both the mentor and the mentee?
YVETTE: I see it happen all the time. The mentors benefit because they are now serving and helping to lift somebody else up. The mentees benefit because..how can I put this? They have real live example, not just somebody on TV or on the radio. It’s a person they can feel and sit down and talk to and have coffee with them who are inspiring them every single day to make a change in their life and their mindset. Not to mention, the majority of our students that come through the program are working in their spark. We have a couple who are aspiring entertainers. We have one right now who works full time at Starbucks but that’s so that she can afford her music word so eh can pay for demos. Your 9th grader, 10th grader, and 11th grader and your mentor is living in his or her passion every single day. That inspires. That’s inspirational.
SCOTT: There seems to be great benefits for everyone in this program. Like I said earlier at the top of the show, 1.3 million students drop out of school every year. That’s one students every 26 seconds. How can getting a good education and equal opportunity help curb these statistics?
YVETTE: I will tell you there are a lot of statistics go around that hey say if you can list one student, one person, one person living in a family that is living in generational poverty..if you lift one student out of impoverished conditions now the whole family has an opportunity to follow. Here’s what we know: for every year of education that a student completes they have the opportunity to make $10,000 more every year. If you figure, poverty level right now for a family of four is around $24,000 and some change. If i graduate high school, I make 34,000. If I graduate college, I might make 44. If I go to grad school, I make 54, 64. There is a direct correlation we know between income and education level. Out theory is that the more students we educate formerly, the greater the odds that the whole family dynamic can change. Not to mention that one of they keys that we are integrating into our curriculum is financial literacy. What we see is that you can educate kids and they get the best education and get a job and if they don’t know how to spend the money or save it adequately, then they are still going to be challenged. We thought that was a critical component, so we recently partnered with SunTrust bank. We are going to help students tighten up with financial literacy and hopefully it will help families as well.
SCOTT: How else do you see your students benefiting? Emotionally? Mentally?
YVETTE: Students who go through the four year academy, we have 100% graduation rate. 98% of those students go on to college or technical school. Here’s the number that is staggering: 86% of those students are first generation college students. What that says is we still have a lot of work to do because a lot of students coming out of underserved schools, they don’t have equal access to education. I think the long term implications for all of the students serve, well transforming mindsets is the beginning of the end of generational poverty. I thought that for some time and now I am convinced. If you really want to eliminate generational poverty in the United States, we have to look at education. From that perspective, with all of our students with the majority being the first student in the family to go to college, we are changing the whole family dynamic. The younger siblings are hopefully inspired to follow in the footsteps of those we served. We have a lot of families that have one or two siblings in our program. One of the greatest awards was when there was a young man from a Milwaukee program who was going to go into the program because he couldn’t afford college. College affordability is a whole other issue that is truly a deterrent for students that we work with. He was going to go into the military but we asked him to hold off a couple more days because he had applied for scholarships. We knew that he been awarded won. He received $100,000 four year scholarship and he went to Howard University. He just graduated. He was number one in his class for two years in a row. When he graduated, he already had his real estate license and his seres seven licences for investment. He has a job working for an accounting firm in LA. Here’s a gentleman who if not for our exposure would have gotten into the military. The fact that through his exposure in the program, he was able to go directly into college. His younger brother wrote an essay that brought tears to all of our eyes about his hero. His hero was his older brother because his brother was in college and doing something with his life. I don’t think it gets any better than that.
SCOTT: Why should American companies and brands care about all these benefits and the work that you’re doing at Usher’s New Look?
YVETTE: Let me start by saying there are many youth organizations that are doing great work. Look at their impact. We are one of many. The reason I think brands should care is because we are creating the net generation of workforce. You’re going to pay upfront on the end. And I would much rather pay to educate a child and give them the opportunity to do something positive with their life and give them an opportunity to have a positive contributions on humanity versus them going to the grocery store and shoplifting because they are hungry. So many of our kids get into the juvenile system and graduate to bigger crime as a necessity. Not a want. The majority of criminals don’t wake up one morning and go I’m going to go rob some store. Many of them–not all of them–do it our of need and necessity. So hopefully, the more people we can educate, the less people will shoplift and do horrible things and the less money we have to spend on jails. That’s one correlation for brands. Secondarily, it’s future workforce. If I am brand X, I would want to invest in knowing that there’s some students that without support may end up doing nothing veruses if I support the programs and efforts of organizations that are having impacts, I can really help change the family dynamics and creating a generation of people that are workforce ready for my business and company.
SCOTT: Which brands are supporting your work at Usher’s New Look?
YVETTE: Oh yes. We have lots of organizations and organization that support us. General Electric is one of our major supporters. The reason being that they are global. The majority of their workforce is not in the United States. But, they understand that they should be investing in the future of global workforce. They really have a genre entrepreneurship and to a great extent that is what we are teaching our students–to be entrepreneurs. You want people to be entrepreneurs even when they are working in your corporation. Southwest Airlines is our official airline partner. Ford had been with us for many years. Travelers Insurance, Home Depot. Home Depot is about homelessness but they understand that education is important. SunTrust is huge. We received close to a hundred thousand dollars to implement financial literacy. Those are just to name a few. We have a lot of individuals as well. The Parks Foundation, The Tyler Perry Foundations. The reason that it’s important to have this cast group of supporters is because we need places for our kids to go and have mentors and places for them to go say i can work here. Those are just some of the top sponsors that we have supporting our work.
SCOTT: There are so many economic benefits for companies, but why should we as Americans support this movement?
YVETTE: If we really want to get back on par, we think about the history of the United States and think back to the Constitution and the learning that this is suppose to be the land of equal opportunity for all, right? Well, it’s not like that today. I think education is key. I don’t think it is the only factor but I think it is a major contributing factor. I think that if we really want people to have an opportunity to have a wholesome, joyful life, then the opportunity to receive a proper education should be the right for all Americans. That’s my perspective. People talk about making America Great Again. I’m not really sure what that means, but if you want our country to be great, you have to have equal opportunity, you have to be able to invest in your people and you have to empower the citizens to really believe they have equal access to opportunity. Right, now I don’t think that’s the case in the United States–at least for everybody.
SCOTT: You mention Make America Great again, so I think it’s important we bring up Trump’s administration. Currently, the Secretary of Education is Betsy DeVos, who seems to not have student’s interest in mind. What do you think about the current administration and how do you feel it has affected your organization?
YVETTE: We have not been directly impacted by this administration. We don’t get a lot of grant dollars per say, but what impacts public education indirectly impacts our organization because we work with students primarily in public schools. I don’t know how you can make a country great again if you’re not invested in education. If you’re not investing in education because you think the system is broken, invest in fixing the system. Invest in looking at innovative and creative ways to teach kids. How do you expect a kid who spends a majority of their waking hours outside of school on the computer, on the internet, with headphones..how do you expect them to be excited about reading a flat book? It’s no wonder why we are losing kids. Then we say they have ADHD and we pop a pill. But, they don’t have recess. Really? Why don’t they have recess? The insurance. We expect a student to stay in school for five to six hours and now have any outlet. The system is broken. What I would like this administration to do is look for solutions, and I don’t thin cutting funding is the correct solution. The truth is it saddens me. I’ve gone into elementary schools where 30% of the students are homeless. I say to the teacher I’m there to read a book and distribute books to them and the teacher says what I really need is toothpaste, a toothbrush and some wipes because so many of my kids are homeless. They slept on a floor or slept in a car. They’re tired. They’re dirty. Before I teach, I try to give them some dignity. I brush their teeth and wash their face and send them down to the cafeteria to see if there’s any lunch left. It’s not they aren’t eligible for free lunch, it’s that they got there late. How do you expect children to learn if they don’t have the basic necessities? We have to deal with homelessness, we have to deal with economic divide, we have to deal with unemployment. These are factors we have to look at when we look at overhauling education.
SCOTT: What would this overhaul look like for you? What are your hopes for the future of education in America?
YVETTE: I think that the new classrooms are going to be basically digital classrooms. I think that we will have global classrooms. I thinks that in the next 4-6 years high schools and colleges will be online. I think the majority of classes will be living out here in this cloud universe. We already have this technology out there that can connect people from various places. I also think decision based learning is going to be important. I think project based programs are going to be important where students work on real life issues for real life companies. We are seeing more and more people taking their kids out of school whether by bus by car by caravan. I even know a family that took their children and traveled across Asia for three years. They come back and their kids are further ahead in maturity and academically than their classmates are that they left behind. I think the classroom as we know it is going to change completely.
SCOTT: Then take me into the future. What would a futuristic classroom look like?
YVETTE: I think a futuristic classroom will look like..if you ever gone to a place where a business corporation they have a room like an experimental room. That’s what I see, but kids won’t come there every day, maybe once or twice a week to really collaborate or have that physical touch. I think that the isolation of the internet is a problem. I think there will be a need for our kids to come together in this experiential learning center or experiential learning institute. I think for the most part it is going to be project based, experiential learning. I’m going to learn as I do. Maybe going to museums and going out of the workplace. Instead of having people come into the classroom, you send students out into the world and let that be the learning experience. I just think traditional learning is going to be turned upside down. It has to be interesting and it has to be relevant if you want to capture a student’s attention. I think the classroom will be partially digital. I see these experiential learning industries.
SCOTT: How do we get from here to there? How do we move towards a digital classroom and experiential learning centers?
YVETTE: My opinion and I have the utmost respect for educators. But, I think it’s going to be the business community coming together and various cohorts coming together and saying let’s build a model. Build models that are sustainable and elt those models take over and let those kids transition out of these traditional classrooms and into these cohorts. There are a couple of these models. There is one in Chicago. It’s not physically off the ground just yet but I think within the next year it will be. It’s completely funded by the private sector: corporations and private individuals. Money is not the issue. The cost per child is not the issue. They just needed to know hat the classroom was going to be completely different. They needed to come up with a program that was really going to grab students’ attention. That’s what they’ve been working on for the past 2 and a half years. We got to blow it up and create new models and duplicate them all across the country.
SCOTT: That’s fascinating to think about the future of education in that way. Where can listeners go to learn more about Usher’s New Look and the movement that you created?
YVETTE: We have a pretty robust website. It is UshersNewLook.org. YOu can also follows us at #UshersNewLook. We’re everywhere. You can go to YouTube and see some of our summits and see what kids are doing. We have Academies in Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Detroit and Atlanta. We serve ids globally.
SCOTT: Thank you so much, Yvette.
YVETTE: One thing I want to do is encourage all of your listeners to do something. The youth crisis is here. It’s in front of us. I urge all the listeners to not sit back and wait for somebody else to make the change, to make a difference or to make a phone call. Do something to make positive impact on this situation. Do something. Something. If you don’t know where to start, reach out. I’d be happy to help you.
SCOTT: I couldn’t agree more. Reach out and do something! Thank you so much for joining us, Yvette.
YVETTE: : Thank you so much for allowing us to have this platform to tell us what we are doing and as you can tell I am very passionate about the work we do. Thank you so much!