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Meet Kristen and Justin Campbell of The Urban Connection Project

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kristen and Justin Campbell.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Kristen and Justin. So, let’s start at the beginning, and we can move on from there.
As a native of Detroit, MI, I grew up being the youngest of three in an educationally driven family. I began working with the youth of Detroit in 2001 as a counselor for the People’s I Am Loveable And Capable (IALAC) Summer Program. I worked closely with the executive and program director until I was asked to be the Assistant Director/Behavior Specialist in 2010. Working extensively with the youth led me to obtain a B.S. in Secondary education and Mathematics with a minor in Communications. After College, I was promoted to director of the IALAC program while working for Phoenix Elementary School District as a middle school math instructor during the scholastic year. In 2013, I was asked to join the administration team for Michigan’s Methodist youth program, where I noticed a lack of cultural competency and understanding of the youth. Upon returning to teach for the following school year, I also began to recognize a need for better-prepared educators in the schools. Wanting more time to focus on preparing and developing our stakeholders to effectively work with students, I stepped away from teaching, began working for Pearson Education and founded The Urban Connection Project, where we believe some of the greatest minds in the world are waiting to be discovered, molded and encouraged. I believe it takes a village to raise a child, which is why I am committed to helping to prepare that village to bring up a new generation of success.

My educational journey began long before I could even recognize my calling in the experiences I was afforded through my mother’s passion for education. Whether it was assisting in her classroom at school, her Sunday School classroom at church, etc. I started to slowly ignite my own passion for the education of our youth. My collegiate experience at Michigan State University in a specified urban cohort majoring in Elementary Education, allowed me to begin refining my passion and truly etching a craft in creating the “urban connection” in order to promote student success. I was able to foster that understanding as I served as Assistant Director of the People’s IALAC Summer program for three years. I have also strengthened my craft as a teacher of both lower and upper elementary, in both Detroit, Michigan and Phoenix, Arizona. Most recently, I taught the contents of Language Arts and Social Studies, where I was able to assist my students to achieve note-worthy growth on state assessments and find passion and inspiration in their own success. I have also gained valuable experience leading an inner-city school through my Masters of Education Administration program, completed at Grand Canyon University. All of these experiences have led me to believe in this project so much because it completely encompasses my passion for raising up future leaders and innovators, who care about their futures and the world around them. I have whole-heartedly dedicated myself to helping educators recognize, cultivate, and connect with greatness within their students.

Has it been a smooth road?
Deciding to leave the classroom (Kristen) and a reputable educational sales company (Justin) to start our own education consulting business has definitely brought along several challenges. On the business side, there’s the struggle to establish the company’s image, branding, and financial foundation, as well as the constant effort to acquire and maintain clients (schools/school districts). On the professional knowledge side, there’s the ever-changing pedagogy and strategies that we have to continue to study and stay ahead of the game to be able to effectively deliver that knowledge to our clients. Then there are our own pressures to deliver our content in a fresh, fun, and memorable way that keeps us constantly challenging the creatives that live inside of us.

At the same time as our business, we also created a non-profit organization, UCP Community Outreach, in 2016 that mentors inner-city young men through a competitive, traveling, club basketball team. The team is active between February and August of each year (the height of club basketball tournaments). Because of our intended clientele, we primarily run on donations and fundraising, which presents an entirely new challenge to add to our plates. If it’s not the money, it’s the commitment we’ve made to be involved in each of their lives: from attending school meetings to providing stability and housing for those who may temporarily need it, to everything in between.

Our business, as well as our non-profit, are constantly bringing new challenges as they are both fairly new and completely run by the two of us. We are looking to expand the business and add more consultants to our team soon, and we have been blessed to add a few mentors/coaches to our non-profit as we have expanded that program to multiple teams. As we continue to expand, new challenges will continue to arise.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with The Urban Connection Project – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
The Urban Connection Project is an organization that is centered around raising the odds of success for all students; however, we specialize in the education of inner-city youth. We are passionate about raising up our next generation of leaders to be accountable, trustworthy, critically thinking individuals who can keep our nation globally competitive. We believe that some of the greatest minds are waiting to be recognized and nurtured to maximum potential through several avenues, both inside and outside of the classroom. Educators have the single-most direct impact on the youth, and therefore systems of structure must be in place in management and instruction in order to meet students where they are and assist them in getting to a level of mastery and excellence. We provide services to educators and soon-to-be educators that allow them to feel equipped to best teach and prepare this future generation of inner-city students to be leaders, thinkers, and achievers. Our services include professional development teacher or administrative training, direct teacher mentorship in the classroom through observations/model lessons/1-on-1 coaching, motivational speaking, school needs assessments, etc. We also have written products to aid in the educational process, such as Justin’s book, ‘Confessions of an Inner-City Teacher,’ which is available to educators as well as the public, and Kristen’s ‘Social Studies Connection Curriculum Guide’ which is available to educational institutions.

This may sound crazy, but what sets us apart is us! You feel our passion, you hear our experiences, you enjoy the time you spend learning under our facilitation, and you appreciate the knowledge and thought put into everything we do. We LOVE what we do, and it shines through our work. This is something we’re super proud of because we want everything that comes from us to be a passion project that exudes our hearts behind the work.

We absolutely loved teaching in the classroom, and our previous students can tell you that. This is the same experience we want anyone working with the youth (teachers, administrators, coaches, etc.) to be able to create for themselves and their students.

In addition, we are really proud of our non-profit work through UCP Community Outreach as well. As previously explained, this is how we continue our direct impact with the youth, while being able to stay involved in the world of basketball that we both love. We have so many kids that we consider our own all over the valley through this work – kids that are moving on to bigger and better things, that we’d like to think are partial as a result of the nuggets we’ve invested in them.

Our business servicing teachers and educators, as well as our non-profit servicing inner-city youth keep us going!

Is there anyone, in particular, you would like to recognize? Mentors, etc.?
Our families!

Justin’s mother, Willa Canty, and grandmother, Gladys Stallings, created an awesome youth program (called IALAC – I Am Lovable And Capable) back in Detroit that really impacted his passion for the youth. Their work spanning over decades has given him the opportunity to nurture that passion over the years, as well as gain valuable experiences that have proved helpful in our work today.

Kristen’s mother, Elaine Zackery, has been a pillar in special education for the Kalamazoo Public Schools, as well as the decades spent creating summer Bible School opportunities for their home church has afforded her the opportunities to cultivate a true passion and skillset for youth development.

Both of our fathers, Reginald Campbell & Dale Zackery, have been such supporters of our business endeavors as they proudly check-in and offer assistance or advice to keep our business and non-profit afloat.

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Getting in touch: VoyagePhoenix is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition, please let us know here.

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