Birmingham Promise Initiative

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The Birmingham Promise Initiative is a program to provide business apprenticeships and college scholarships to Birmingham City Schools students. The initiative is operated as a public-private partnership in conjunction with United Way of Central Alabama.

The Birmingham Promise Initiative was developed by Rachel Harmon as Birmingham's Deputy Director of Talent Development, working in Birmingham Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity, an office established by Birmingham mayor Randall Woodfin. It is modeled on largely similar programs in Kalamazoo, Michigan and Buffalo, New York which have shown long-term success in improving graduation rates, closing achievement gaps in public schools, and reducing juvenile crime. Rachel Harmon served as the program's first executive director until stepping down in 2021 to attend Yale Law School. She was succeeded in 2022 by Samantha Williams.


Such programs require large amounts of private investment from partnering businesses and charitable foundations in order to establish an endowment. The initial implementation of Birmingham's program coincided with a reduction in the city's direct annual disbursement to the Birmingham Board of Education, from $3 million to $1 million in the 2020 Birmingham budget. The final budget approved by the Birmingham City Council included an annual appropriation of $2 million for 5 years to the Birmingham Promise Initiative.

In June 2019 the Birmingham Promise Initiative was awarded a $150,000 grant from the Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship (PAYA) to support strategy development and implementation. A $35 million fund-raising campaign was kicked off in February 2020 with the announcement of pledges of $1 million each from the Alabama Power Foundation, the Altec/Styslinger Foundation and Regions Bank.

In January 2020 UAB announced that it would provide a one-to-one match for Birmingham Promise scholarships for freshmen admitted as full-time students immediately after high school. In 2021 an additional $5 million gift from Vulcan Value Partners was announced, alongside $1 million gifts from Protective Life, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, and Alabama Power Company. Bloomberg Philanthropies awarded the program $1.8 million in November 2021.


In the program's "pilot" year, 2019, a total of 20 students were placed in paid summer internships.

In August 2019, Woodfin announced that the Birmingham Promise program would begin offering all graduates from city schools a "last dollar" scholarship to attend public in-state 2- and 4-year colleges to which they have been accepted for enrollment, beginning with the class of 2020. That program had previously been referred to as the "Fred Shuttlesworth Promise Scholarship." Birmingham Promise also partnered with businesses to offer 150 paid apprentices for juniors and seniors in Birmingham City Schools.

In the first full year of scholarship assistance, Birmingham Promise supported 293 students with direct financial assistance totaling nearly $1.5 million. An additional 103 students, many of whom earned full scholarships, made use of the program's success coaches and staff during the year.

In late 2021 it was reported that nearly 800 high school graduates had received some financial support and coaching for college and 150 had participated in apprenticeships, with 100 of those placed in permanent jobs.


  • Koplowitz, Howard (March 21, 2019) "Woodfin gives update on progress of strategic plan for Birmingham." The Birmingham News
  • Johnson, Roy S. (May 21, 2019) "Johnson: Woodfin’s education ‘promise’ may be most vital budget component, most difficult to fulfill." The Birmingham News
  • Woodfin, Randall & Lisa Herring (May 23, 2019) "Woodfin and Herring: A Promising Future for Birmingham" The Birmingham Times
  • West, Ty (May 28, 2019) "City rolling out Birmingham Promise initiative." Birmingham Business Journal
  • Beahm, Anna (August 28, 2019) "What Birmingham students need to know about Woodfin’s college promise." The Birmingham News
  • Beahm, Anna (August 30, 2019) "Kalamazoo Promise, a model for Birmingham’s college aid program, gets results." The Birmingham News
  • Rebman, Stephanie (October 21, 2019) "City commits $10M to Birmingham Promise initiative." Birmingham Business Journal
  • Patchen, Tyler (January 9, 2020) "UAB partners with city on Birmingham Promise scholarships." Birmingham Business Journal
  • Beahm, Anna (February 25, 2020) "Three businesses pledge $3 million to Birmingham Promise." The Birmingham News
  • Rebman, Stepanie (April 29, 2020) "Birmingham Promise names its inaugural director." Birmingham Business Journal
  • Gauntt, Josh (May 24, 2021) "Birmingham Promise about to graduate second class of students."
  • Patchen, Tyler (May 25, 2021) "Birmingham Promise receives $8M in gifts from corporate heavyweights." Birmingham Business Journal
  • Mann, Joshua (November 3, 2021) "Rachel Harmon leaving Birmingham Promise for law school." Birmingham Business Journal
  • Kerrigan, Sonia (November 9, 2021) "Birmingham Promise awarded $1.8 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies." Bham Now

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