Observatory Hill’s Pride Project not your average educational institution
Pride Project, Inc. isn’t structured around cut-and-dry goods and services: It aims to fill in the gaps of what a traditional education can provide, to give people ‘experiences that aren’t quantifiable.’
By Lucia Shen
Photo: Ashlee Green
In December 2020, Pride Project Inc. bought the former Chatham Elementary School building on Bonvue Street in Observatory Hill. With this purchase, a “research repository,” as founder Robert Howard II describes it, was revealed.
Pride Project’s aim, according to Howard, is to “give students a place for opportunities outside of a traditional education setting where they can discover or become the best version of themselves.” He breaks the organization down into two facets: the building with all the facilities, and the programming. On one hand, Pride Project, with 6.3 acres of land on the end of Bonvue, aims to become a hub for the community. This “research repository,” as Howard coins it, includes services for the community such as childcare, personal trainers, and wellness and nutrition coaches. The organization wants to look at what the community needs and see if the space can help foster those things.
In addition to providing space for what the community needs, the second facet of Pride Project is the programming: the people who help guide and educate others.
Howard himself is a teacher at Perry Traditional Academy, his alma mater. Before there, he worked in banking, and it was the impact that his teachers had on him that made him become an educator at his old school.
“I had a pretty decent career in banking, but I stayed in touch with those educators and they just really stayed on me and said, ‘You know, you’re really missing your calling, you should’ve been an educator your whole life,’” Howard says. “And one day I woke up and decided I wanted to do that.”
“I became an educator because when I look back on my life, I ran into some phenomenal educators, and they really changed my life. Actually, [they] really saved my life at a point in time in middle school,” Howard says.
“About two or three of my best friends passed away via gun violence and my home life was kind of in disarray,” he continues. ”The only thing that really kept me going was that I had two phenomenal teachers in middle school that gave me a reason to go to school everyday.”
Now as an educator himself, Howard started Pride Project to fill in the gaps of what a traditional education can provide. It aims to give people “experiences that aren’t quantifiable,” he states.
“A lot of what we try to do is to try and be impactful, and I don’t know if you can always measure that in a nice way,” Howard says.
Although Pride Project provides tutoring and mentoring, Howard talks about how their organization is not necessarily structured around cut-and-dry goods and services.
“We really try to come alongside things that people are already doing, and as the professional educators, it’s our job to get people to learn without them learning,” he says, “so they’re engaging in organic things that they like to do.”
“As an educator, I understand that we kind of like things in nice neat packages—that we like to be able to measure things. We want to be able to say that we started here and that we moved here,” Howard says. “But the question that I always had is like, what about those experiences [isn’t] quantifiable? How do we determine the impact that an experience has on somebody’s life?”
Last summer, for instance, Pride Project fed Perry Traditional Academy’s football team, paid for their uniforms, and provided players with transportation. When there was a need within the community, Pride Project stepped in. And while paying for uniforms or transportation for football may not seem to be a part of providing an education, it’s one of those factors that cannot be measured by a test or exam.
“On the outside you look at it like, OK, so you bought some uniforms for some urban youth to play football,” Howard says. “But what happens during the course of that time over the summer: We can calculate the number of hours that we kept them off the streets and engaged in positive activity. We can see the growth in individuals in their confidence, their leadership ability, and their ability to speak in front of people.”
Five to 10 years down the line, Howard imagines Pride Project fully operating the space they have. The model for their program is not adults telling others what to do, but rather providing spaces for collaboration and growth. He envisions maker spaces, dance studios, workout studios, computer labs—whatever can help people achieve the best version of themselves.
“We’re looking to be an inclusive space for the community: not just youth, not just adults, but really a hub of resources and that it’s not [just] a Pride Project thing. We whole-heartedly believe in collaboration and collaborative efforts to advance people.”
“Our motto or our dictive is to ‘live on purpose,’ and that’s what we want people to do through education, whether it’s financial literacy, health and wellness. It’s hard to live on purpose if you’re uneducated, so we aim to educate people along all those lines so that they can do and have options, and not simply live a reactionary life.”