Georgetown honors D.C. leader for expanding low-income students’ educational opportunities

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Georgetown University honored Khari Brown, a local leader who has helped hundreds of low-income students graduate and excel in the workforce. Brown is the chief executive officer of Capital Partners for Education (CPE), a 29-year-old nonprofit organization that provides mentoring and college and career success programming to low-income high school and college students from the Washington, D.C., area.

In a virtual ceremony, the university presented Brown with the 2022 John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award, named for Georgetown’s legendary former head basketball coach, who was a Washington, D.C., native, mentor, advocate, and community leader.

Related: Georgetown honors legacy, leadership of basketball coach John Thompson Jr. >

Breaking down barriers to college success

A former professional basketball player, Brown has dedicated his career to expanding educational opportunities for low-income youth. Under his leadership, CPE has expanded from serving 50 students a year to 470, helping them break down barriers and achieve a 61 percent college graduation rate–a rate nearly triple that of similar students nationally.

Speaking at the Jan. 17 event, Georgetown President John J. DeGioia recognized Brown’s transformative impact in the community. “Khari’s journey shares special resonance with that of John Thompson—through his own love of the game of basketball as both a former player and as a coach,” DeGioia said. “His passion for the game is deeply connected to his work with young people and his commitment to education. His leadership shows the power of mentorship as a tool to bring out the very best in our young people and enable them to thrive.”

Coaching that goes beyond the court

Commenting on his shift from a career coaching basketball to one in education, Brown said his experience tutoring high school basketball players “was a moment when I realized the educational system was failing too many high-potential young people. And that I wanted to spend a career in education working more directly with youth and preparing them for their futures.”

Brown got his master’s in education from Tufts University, and after graduating, was eager to draw on his experiences mentoring former players. Originally a scholarship program for low-income students who wanted to attend private high schools, CPE scaled up under Brown’s leadership to prioritize one-on-one mentoring and programming for underserved students in the “academic middle”—students whose GPAs range from 2.3 to 3.1 and are on the cusp of college eligibility but whose schools are unable to provide additional support.

These students, Brown says, “are almost always first-generation to college and need extra help to activate this process. Opportunities in our city are deeply unequal based on race, neighborhood, and income, so I’ve tried to find other ways to solve that.”

Evolving, expanding CPE’s impact

Eighty-eight percent of CPE’s high school class of 2020 have enrolled in college within one year of graduating. Eighty-five percent of its college students remained enrolled during the 2020-21 school year.

The program also pivoted during the pandemic to help meet students’ basic needs, distributing funds for groceries, rent, school supplies, and other essential services. Partnering with peer organizations also is a priority as CPE seeks to reach more young people, pairing its college success services with career preparation and job placement resources.

The John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award celebrates Dr. King’s life and legacy, as well as the award’s namesake by recognizing emerging local leaders who are working to solve key issues in Washington, D.C. “The Legacy of a Dream Award creates opportunities for others in the same way that Dr. King’s dream opened the door for dad at Georgetown,” Tiffany Thompson, Coach Thompson’s daughter, said during the ceremony. “The organization we honor today provides opportunities for our communities in DC to live out those dreams.”

Topics in this story

Next Up

Report: How could college admissions better promote racial equity?

A new publication considers higher education’s admissions and financial-aid systems through the lens of racial equity and urges stakeholders to rethink key barriers for students of color.