Jefferson Award Winner Founded Ever Forward ClubBy Allen Martin

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) Students from San Francisco’s Downtown High School are learning about themselves and each other, by writing down on a piece of paper dreams and goals they may have for the future. But it’s not just upcoming plans they’re sharing; these high school juniors, seniors, and educators are participating in a workshop given by Ever Forward Club. Topics discussed include gender dynamics, communication, and boundaries.

Ashanti Branch founded Ever Forward Club in 2004 when he was a first-year math teacher. In the beginning, Branch designed the non-profit as a free weekly club with a mission to help young men of color with school work and social pressures.

“It was really just about building the connection for me to say what’s going on with you, how are things going,” explained Branch. “I wanted to create this brotherhood where they could solve a lot of their problems by using each other’s support and each other’s expertise.”

Since then, Ever Forward Club has expanded beyond its free weekly high school clubs to include educational workshops for all genders. Branch shares personal stories in these workshops as a way to get others to open up about their own. On this day he recounts how his father died after smoking marijuana laced with another substance.

“They took him to my grandmother’s house,” recalled Branch. “And before the ambulance could get there, he died at my grandmother’s house.”

It’s a somber story, but one that grabs the attention of those who hear it. Downtown High School’s wellness coordinator Jodi Tsapis says she is impressed with Branch’s ability to connect with his audience.

“He’s vulnerable and open,” said Tsapis. “And it invites people to share their stories. Especially young people feel drawn in by the things that he shares about his personal life.”

Ever Forward Club now serves more than 10,000 students and educators yearly. Ashanti’s future plans include expanding the weekly clubs to include some specifically designed for young women. High school senior Asonte Jefferson says the workshop was a valuable experience.

“Any form of education is good, to expand your horizon really,” said Jefferson. “And to be able to learn how to treat each other better, I think that will make us better as a society.”

Branch says Ever Forward’s weekly clubs boast a 100% high school graduation rate, a success he attributes to a simple message he gives to the young people.

“I see more in you than maybe you are seeing in yourself,” said Branch. “Borrow some of my belief in you.”

So for helping to empower students and educators to achieve their own success, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Ashanti Branch.

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