By Gillian Smith, Chief Marketing Officer

A new documentary, All the Difference, explores issues and challenges that face two young African-American men growing up in Chicago’s Englewood community – issues that are relevant to our work at City Year every single day in all of the urban communities where we serve.  Robert Henderson III and Krishaun Branch, who were filmed off and on for more than five years by Academy-Award nominated documentary director, Tod Lending, each faced numerous challenges growing up, and both go on to become the first in their families to manage to graduate high school and enroll in college.  Their struggles are real and sometimes seem insurmountable – from feeling unprepared academically, or not being able to pay a tuition invoice.  But they persevere and are able to succeed - not only because of their own potential and drive, but also the strong support that they receive from others: teachers and other educators, mentors, family members, role models and community leaders. 

When you watch the film (which is streaming for free online until October 13, 2016), you’ll witness Krishaun and Robert’s deep appreciation for the mentors and role models in their lives. It’s no surprise then, that both wanted to give back to other young students in their own ways. Robert gave back by serving with City Year in Columbia, South Carolina.  After Robert was accepted into the corps, the producers reached out to us about filming Robert’s service.  We wanted to be involved because we know that mentors can play a significant role in helping kids succeed, and we actively look for and recruit individuals like Robert and Krishaun who can relate to our students and the challenges they are facing both inside and outside the classroom. At a time when our country seems more divided than ever, issues of racial injustice continue to be prevalent, and despite some gains, college completion rates for African-American men remain abysmally low.

The film highlights many specific challenges that Robert and Krishaun face, and we are hopeful that the accompanying College Bound Students Handbook will enable others to learn directly from their experiences so that they know how to deal with the challenges of getting to college graduation.

You can see a few minutes of Robert’s time at City Year in the film. It’s hard to capture everything he and his students achieved that year, but you can get to know his team and learn more about his service with us here.  During Robert’s time with City Year, he saw first-hand the impact he was able to have on the middle school students he tutored.  Not only was he supporting them academically, but he also helped to coach the school’s football team.  This spring, a year after he had graduated from City Year, Robert shared with me that he received a text message from one of his former students who proudly shared with him that she had an A in each of her classes. 

Mentoring is also the theme of this year’s American Graduate Day, a four-hour long broadcast on Sept. 17 that culminates PBS’s week of education-themed programming. The broadcast features City Year New York Impact Manager Byron Flores and his inspiring efforts to help students stay in school and on track to high school graduation.

At City Year, we believe that education is the great equalizer, and is one of the most direct routes out of poverty.  Not only do we help students with their attendance, behavior and course performance in math and English, but we also look to help them develop skills that will enable them to be successful in college and a career.  It is our hope that many people will watch All the Difference and the American Graduate Day broadcast and engage with them to actively discuss and seek out solutions to help our country’s most challenged students reach their full potential.


All the Difference premieres nationally on PBS on September 12, 2016. It is available to stream online for free until October 13, 2016.  American Graduate Day airs in selected markets from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. EST on September. 17, 2016. Check your local listings and the PBS website for additional airings.

Learn more about Robert's service with us here. 

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