Kenya Hobbs (BA ’96) learned to “pay it forward” years before the idea was popularized in a best-selling book and subsequent film adaptation.
The lesson was part of his undergraduate studies at UB, delivered by a professor he thinks of often, the late Carlene Polite.
“She was a diminutive woman, a relic of the 1960s who was always challenging me to do great things,” says Hobbs. “And she instilled in me a passion and recognition that my gifts and talents shouldn’t be developed for my own purposes, but for the purpose of helping others.”
Today, those lessons read like Hobbs’ job description at Buffalo Promise Neighborhood (BPN), an initiative started in 2010 that attempts to improve the educational outcomes in a community by providing cradle-to-college resources. By focusing on education, safety and the development of local economic opportunities, Hobbs says Buffalo Promise Neighborhood strives to improve the overall quality of life in that community.
Hobbs is BPN’s community engagement specialist, a position that he says is fundamentally about organization and collaboration.
“It’s my job to get the right people together,” he says. “I get the people that live, learn, work, worship and play in the neighborhood working on the same page in order to impart the change we want to have in the community.”
When he talks about his responsibilities at BPN, Hobbs shares one of Polite’s stories about her father, who said what she didn’t know could fill a library. Polite was a published author with a terminal degree who had studied all over the world. She initially offered no response to her father’s assessment, but years later confronted and challenged him.
“She eventually learned her father was wrong,” says Hobbs. “She told me that what she didn’t know could fill several libraries.”
Hobbs says he is reminded of that lesson every day as he works with BPN’s director and a community council comprised of block club leaders, business leaders, parents and community members to implement the agency’s community engagement strategy.
“[That story] taught me that significant change requires several people,” says Hobbs. “We have to combine our gifts and approach our challenges collectively.”
That’s what Kenya Hobbs and Buffalo Promise Neighborhood are doing on a daily basis.