Meet Aldustus (A.J.) Jordan, City Year Philly’s 2021 Idealist of the Year
Aldustus (A.J.) Jordan was named Idealist of the Year at last week’s virtual Red Jacket Gala in recognition of his longstanding support of City Year.
City Year Philadelphia’s virtual Red Jacket Gala was a huge success, raising over $500,000 to support our work towards education equity in Philly schools. Although we sadly couldn’t gather in person this year, we had a blast engaging virtually with CYP champions from across the city, hearing from AmeriCorps Team Leader Alexia Nebrao about her two years of service with Bethune School, and partaking in a live magic performance with Digital Deception.
As part of the evening’s festivities, we were pleased to formally honor Aldustus (A.J.) Jordan as the Idealist of the Year. This annual award is given to an individual who has demonstrated extraordinary leadership in their community and longstanding support of service and education in Philadelphia.
Throughout his career A.J. has served as a strategic advisor, funder, and champion for City Year. In his current role as Wells Fargo’s Senior Vice President and Community Relations Co-Head, A.J. is leading the transformation of the company’s national Community Relations function and managing a team of geographically based philanthropy professionals working to increase positive societal impact across the United States.
A.J. has dedicated his career to developing highly effective partnerships that have empowered communities by harnessing the resources and influence of the private sector to benefit children and families. He began his career as a social worker for Head Start and a children and youth advocate, organizing community coalitions to push for equitable public school funding and educational opportunities for under resourced communities. A.J.’s professional impact has included working as a government relations leader in the healthcare sector to expand Medicaid services for low-income residents, and helping implement an award-winning national philanthropic and employee volunteer program for a Fortune 500 hospitality company headquartered in Philadelphia.
Read our Q&A with A.J. to learn more about his involvement with City Year, why he’s passionate about the mission, and his personal relationship to education equity.
How did you come to learn about and get involved with City Year?
Back around 2004-2005, I was invited by Marciene Mattleman—who was a longtime civic icon and one of the founding board members of City Year Philadelphia—to participate in a really unique civic engagement project called “City Week.” She brought together a small group of established and up-and-coming community leaders to spend a week alongside City Year Corps members in different schools: talking with City Year, having networking conversations, and also helping the Corps members with mentoring and tutoring. And I just fell in love with the mission of City Year and the dedication and energy of the Corps.
Ironically, soon after that experience I changed roles into Aramark, which has been a major national sponsor of City Year. Ever since that experience with Marciene and working on the corporate side as a major supporter and funder, I’ve been personally and professionally closely knit with City Year and its mission for 15 years.
What was your reaction when you learned that you had been named as Idealist of the Year?
Definitely very shocked, and certainly extremely honored and humbled to be considered. Having gone to many Red Jacket Galas and seeing how many inspirational and accomplished leaders have received that award, it was really special to me, especially because of my longtime commitment to and engagement with City Year. It meant, and it still does mean, a whole lot. I remember getting that call from Darryl Bundrige and Dorothy Wong like it was yesterday, and was amazed that I got chosen.
In your current role at Wells Fargo, you’re leading the transformation of the company’s national Community Relations function and managing a team of geographically based philanthropy professionals working to increase positive societal impact across the United States. Can you speak more about this and how these efforts intersect with City Year’s work?
One of the changes I’m helping to lead at Wells Fargo is being a lot more strategic with our philanthropic resources, and making bigger investments in organizations that can produce measurable outcomes when serving low- and moderate-income communities. And also applying a racial equity lens to our grantmaking and programs we support. City Year has done an outstanding job demonstrating to funders the clear impact that it’s having on student achievement, enhancing school culture, and even increasing employee engagement for its corporate partners by organizing large-scale volunteer events that inspire everyone who’s involved. It’s a great return on investment from a philanthropic standpoint. I’ve also always really appreciated how intentional City Year is when selecting a diverse Corps and having everyone learn from and appreciate each other’s differences, which I think is part of the secret sauce of the organization.
“I’ve had the privilege of staying connected to Corps members over the years; I saw them in their roles serving in schools every day, and in some cases I had the chance to mentor them and watch them grow and blossom in a variety of leadership experiences. But the one thing that doesn’t change—regardless of what job they have or where their career path takes them—is a lifelong commitment to public service and to enhancing the lives of children, families, and communities.”
What resonates with you the most or do you find most impactful about City Year’s work?
First and foremost, the dedication, commitment, and passion for community service. I’ve had the privilege of staying connected to Corps members over the years; I saw them in their roles serving in schools every day, and in some cases I had the chance to mentor them and watch them grow and blossom in a variety of leadership experiences. But the one thing that doesn’t change—regardless of what job they have or where their career path takes them—is a lifelong commitment to public service and to enhancing the lives of children, families, and communities. I think that’s a unique trait of the individuals that are recruited to be Corps members, and it definitely comes through in each and every one of the Corps.
What does education equity mean to you?
On a basic level, I think it’s making sure that everyone has a fair shot in life, which starts with a strong educational foundation and the opportunity to pursue higher education. When I think of education equity, one of the motivating factors is a family story that I often tell. My dad was the first in his family to attend college. He was the oldest of four siblings and grew up in very under-resourced urban communities. My grandfather was a minister, and at the time when he wanted to send my dad to attend college, he opened up a small family-run hot dog stand, which was supported by the community and he pulled together enough resources to send my dad to Cheney University. And that certainly inspired me, but it also inspired all my dad’s siblings; all of them went to college, and many of them received advanced degrees and became successful in their own right.
Some of the brightest kids I’ve ever worked with in my career in the community unfortunately will never achieve their dreams. Not because they lack the intellectual capacity or ability, but because they lack a quality education and the social capital to progress in their careers. I’ve dedicated my career—in the public sector, as a social worker, as a community advocate, and certainly in the corporate sector—to providing more opportunities for youth to succeed in life regardless of their circumstances. Education equity has been at the center of a lot of what I’ve done and tried to stand for in my life, both my personal life and my career.
What’s your most memorable moment or greatest accomplishment from your time being involved with City Year?
What I’m most proud of, especially in my corporate roles, is the ability to advocate and leverage funding and support for City Year: not just in the Greater Philly region, but in markets across the country. I’ve had a lot of great memories, but I’ll always reflect fondly on the big days of service that I’ve partnered on with City Year across the country. These events are always inspirational, and most importantly it exposes people of all backgrounds to City Year’s work—some of whom have no connection to or understanding of the day-to-day struggles of what it means to be in an under-resourced school—and it challenges them to want to do more. I’ve probably done dozens of these large days of service in countless markets across the country, and they’ve sparked long-term partnerships with corporations and individuals. There’s just something special when you attend a service day with City Year. It’s a certain energy and sense of dedication and commitment to the work, which again translates into ongoing support and actions to strengthen communities and schools.
My personal commitment is to continue to be an advocate for the important work that City Year is doing. I’ve always been, and always will be, a huge advocate for the work, and also committed to helping to develop the careers of Corps members: to make sure that they continue to have opportunities to be bright lights in our community, whatever they decide to do in their careers. For me, it’s a long-term commitment to support both the organization itself and the core mission, but also to support the Corps as they grow and develop as leaders of the future.
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