In this edition of 5 Questions, we sit down to chat with Jonathan Pulley, who joined the Education and Employment team as a program manager in late 2022. Jonathan’s focus is on creating opportunities for Detroiters to pursue higher education. He discusses the challenges of this work and the activities and people who motivate him every day.
Rocket Community Fund: Why are you so passionate about post-secondary education and career development?
Jonathan Pulley: Higher education is a vehicle to drive change and gain institutional knowledge, and it creates access to wealth and can change your family’s trajectory. I realized that there was a clear gap for Black people to access this knowledge, because people of color have often been left out of the process to participate in higher education and other institutions of higher learning. I became passionate about this issue when I began observing students in my neighborhood who decided not to pursue education after High School.
All through my undergraduate studies at Western Michigan University I worked for a program called Upward Bound, which helps first generation and low-income students get equal access and opportunity to higher education. “First generation” meant no one in their immediate family had gone to college to help them navigate that experience; and “low-income” meant there was limited access to capital. These two factors made it hard to really be prepared for the academic journey outside of high school.
Finally, I believe that everyone has a God-given ability, gift, talent or skill and they might need a little bit of help to fully cultivate it! This is where I see my work – being able to create opportunities for people to make a change in their community and the future of their families.
RCF: What do you think are the biggest obstacles/gaps for Detroiters who want to take that next step in their career/education?
JP: Detroit is a city that is resilient. It’s part of what makes Detroit the unique city that it is – somehow, our city always bounces back. At a systems-level, I would love to see continued support for community engagement, resource navigation, increased access to high-wage jobs, and the whole family being able to view themselves as important members of the larger Detroit ecosystem. Our goal is to make a pathway for Detroiters to navigate complex systems to obtain knowledge, skills and opportunities that are set to advance an overall family income. I hope to continue to position the Rocket Community Fund in a way that centers community voice, while implementing real change through our philanthropic efforts.
RCF: How has your experience working with the Kellogg Foundation influenced your perspective and approach to your work?
JP: I am extremely grateful for the 4.5 years I spent at the W.K Kellogg Foundation (WKKF)! As a member of the Racial Equity team I saw that it takes hyper intentionality to “enter community” and make change. Systems change is not only about policy wins and making progress on organizational targets. It’s also about enabling local leaders to do great work and for us as funders to work alongside them in the process. My experience at the Kellogg Foundation gave me the tools, training, and knowledge to understand that race is a core problem to large-scale issues. I began to map out a career focused on advancing Education and Equity at the center of my work. WKKF has a priority place in Detroit. After seeing all of the great work that is being done in the city, I knew I wanted to contribute my time and talent to an organization that was equally dedicated to improving the lives of Detroiters.
RCF: What are your goals for developing the Education and Employment space at the Rocket Community Fund?
JP: I want to make Detroiters feel like education and degree attainment is possible for them. As I mentioned, I believe everyone has a talent, skill or craft that is unique to them, and it’s our responsibility to ensure that barriers are removed and people are able to participate in the education system so they can realize their talents. I want to build a seamless pathway for students that starts as early as their freshman year in high school, but can also apply to older adults and to participate in and benefit from the educational system. This requires innovative ideas, understanding the needs of Detroiters and the courage to drive some big ideas.
RCF: We recently learned you get up at 5am daily to go to the boxing gym! How does this routine motivate you in your personal and professional life?
JP: have a set of almost 3-year-old twin girls and an 18-month-old boy. In my free time, (what little I have), I make it a priority to wake up at 5am go to the boxing gym and work out before everyone is awake. This gets me started before my day and gives me enough time to prep and be sharp and focused. In high school I ran track and went all state in the 400M Dash. I love competition at all stages of life – it’s a real driving force for me.
This reflects how I operate in my professional life. I want to bring the best out in people that I work with and partnerships that I lead. I am someone who always sees the positive in things and believes we can leverage systems to create real change. I often think about how I can continue to impact large complex issues long-term. That’s part of the reason I love talking and working with young people and elders in the community – it gives me a contextual understanding of how we got here and where we’re headed in the future.