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Relationship to Marin
Born and raised in Marin, Bettie Hodges received her undergraduate and graduate degree from UC Berkeley. A teacher and a librarian, she went on to earn fellowships and became an editor of the Black Caucus Magazine Point of View during her time at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in Washington D.C. Hodges also worked locally and nationally for twenty years, leading the Community Development Program at the Marin Community Foundation, founding and serving as Executive Director for the Marin City Community Development Corporation, and providing consultancy to the National Rural Funders Collaborative. In 2015 she was inducted into the Marin Women’s Hall of Fame for her work in affordable housing and education.
Involvement with the Hannah Project
2008 the Hannah Project was founded by Bettie Hodges who also serves as its executive director. She explained that her career experiences and her relationship to young people in her church caused her to notice a problematic lack of scholarships opportunities which correlated with many of the students at her church lacking resources and guidance towards college and other higher education. Hodges points to this experience at her church as the inspiration to form the Hannah Project, which started as a volunteer endeavor for her. As time went on, Ms. Hodges started to see the larger achievement gap caused by many factors including, but not limited to, level of parental education and access to college counseling, contributing to the lack of college resources for the kids the Hannah Project was serving. While the Project began primarily focused on getting these young people (primarily young people of color) scholarships towards college, it morphed into a larger support system of college preparatory resources, along with the scholarship program. The programs within the Hannah Project also included workshops with parents and youth in order to promote leadership and motivation towards college.
The Freedom School and Other Projects
Bettie Hodges’s work with The Hannah Project also exposed her to a further experience of the institutionalized racism against the kids that the Hannah Project serves. Recognizing the importance of promoting literacy among elementary school-age kids and the need to mitigate the “school to prison” pipeline, Hodges became involved with the Freedom Schools program. For the past 8 years, The Hannah Project has partnered with the Children’s Defense Fund to operate a Freedom School in Marin City which places emphasis on literacy, social justice, cultural knowledge and celebration. This very popular program has broad support from both parents and the community at large.
During her work with the Freedom School and other Hannah programs, Hodges also became involved in advocacy efforts to expose and protest the problematic nature of charter schools and their use of funds that are often taken from public schools – creating a type of segregation and inequality. This protest and exposure against inequity in the Sausalito School District prompted the State Attorney General’s Office to investigate the Sausalito School District and its relationship to Willow Creek Academy – a charter school in the District.
Hodges has coalesced advocacy around achievement gap issue into a collaboration, SAGE (Saving a Generation) which supports access to quality childcare and early childhood education. It also supports and promotes youth programs and changing high school districts to be more responsive to the needs of their low-income students around college preparation and academic resources. Each of these project is an important piece of the work Bettie Hodges has been doing in the Marin and Bay Area community over so many years to close the achievement gap that affects so many students of color and financially undeserved communities.
What Readers Can do to Support
There are various long and short term opportunities for involvement with the programs above. The Freedom School needs volunteers for their six-week summer program. They look for volunteers with special skills such as photography, botany, among others to teach and work with the young people in the program. They are also getting ready to launch a funding campaign for the freedom school and welcome donations from the community. The Hannah Project and the Freedom School both are interested in working with student volunteers and interns for social justice and education positions as well as advocacy, meeting facilitation and direct services.
Hope for Marin Women and Girls
Bettie Hodges expressed that her greatest hope for the girls that go through the Freedom School and the Hannah Project, as well as others, “Have a chance to understand their worth and their beauty.” She also hopes, that their educational and career opportunities are enhanced through her work. She hopes, for these young people, that their horizons are expanded and they will be seen as valuable, rather than a problem, to the schools they attend and the communities in which they live.
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Blog post by: Melanie Voorsanger, MWC Volunteer