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“I promise to be a Super Leader for life!”
It’s an oath that marks the opening and closing lines of the pledge recited by members of the Washington, D.C.-based student organization, Super Leaders.
Read aloud at leadership retreats, it’s a promise that reminds the students not only of their long-term goals but also the family that they’re now a part of: a family of peers that’s committed to defying the odds against them and becoming responsible, contributing citizens of the world.
In their inner-city neighborhoods, D.C. youth confront the challenges of gun violence, drugs, financial hardship, crime and broken homes on a daily basis.
But in the face of this adversity, the Super Leaders program has supported more than 24,000 students by combining in-school mentoring, life-skills training and community service projects. The program provides opportunities for the students to attend weekly meetings, receive tutoring and mentoring, participate in retreats and plan for their futures.
Super Leaders boasts a 98 percent high school graduation rate, with about 75 percent of the participants going on to college, trade school, military or the work force.
“There are a lot of excellent youth programs in D.C., but ours sets itself apart because the kids know we’re always available,” explains Brig Owens, the founder of Super Leaders. “We work with the kids twelve months out of the year, 24/7.”
A former player in the National Football League, Owens founded the Super Leaders program in 1985 in an effort to bring supportive community programs to his own city, much like those of the NFL Players Association that he was previously a part of.
“Super Leaders was a program that we thought would maybe last five years…and here we are more than 30 years later,” Owens says. He attributes this longevity and success to the strong network of supporters and active board members who all play an important role.
One of those active board members – and current Super Leaders vice chairman – is Warren Bischoff, director of the RBC Wealth Management-U.S. Washington, D.C. complex.
Bischoff has been a cornerstone of the Super Leaders family for more than 20 years and has raised more than $500,000 for the organization. He was honored in 2007 as RBC Wealth Management’s Dick McFarland Volunteer of the Year and has continued to lead by example each day in the years since.
The 130 RBC employees he oversees have collectively helped more than 200 charities, including Super Leaders, which several of his staff continue to support. With so many employees involved in this youth-focused program, the RBC Foundation – USA has contributed grants to the organization for more than a decade.
Owens credits RBC – and Bischoff and his staff in particular – for giving back to the community. “Consistency is the truest measure of a person,” Owens says. “And Warren and his colleagues have been really consistent in making sure that these young kids get the services that they need.”
“We love to say that we connect our clients’ wealth with purpose, but we also connect our employees’ lives with purpose,” Bischoff says. “Giving back is one of those things that’s a moral responsibility.”
When asked about Super Leaders’ success, Bischoff is quick to credit the hard work of Frankie Crosby, executive director of the Super Leaders program since 1999. Bischoff describes Crosby, affectionately known by the students as “Baba,” as a “medicine woman” and the “heart and soul” of the program.
But Crosby turns the sincere praise back onto Bischoff. “I personally have never met anyone like Warren in my life. He makes everybody realize that they are on a mission,” she says.
As the former deputy director of congressional and public affairs worldwide for the Drug Enforcement Administration, Crosby says she’s worked with attorneys general and heads of the FBI, but has never seen the type of respect earned that Bischoff has earned from the kids of Super Leaders.
“Warren is capable of making the kids feel that he’s on their level,” she says. “He doesn’t give them speeches. He talks from the heart and makes them feel that they can really become whatever they want to become. They haven’t had anyone tell them that before.”
Left to right: Brig Owens, Frankie Crosby, Brian Stewart and Warren Bischoff.
It wasn’t long after Crosby came aboard at Super Leaders that Bischoff joined too, and she remembers him electrifying the board in the same way he energizes the kids. His leadership is encouraging, she says, “and you know he’ll have the best advice for you, whether you want to accept it or not.”
She shared the example of Brian Stewart, a student who wanted to be a part of the program when he was in 11th grade. Both of Stewart’s parents were involved with drugs, and he was living with his aunt.
“When he asked to be a part of Super Leaders, I said no. I prefer to take kids in the ninth grade so I can have them through 12th grade and really make an impact on their lives,” Crosby says.
“But Warren said to me, ‘You have to make exceptions,’” she adds. And so they did.
After completing the Super Leaders program, Stewart went on to graduate with honors from Morgan State University in 2015. While there, he studied abroad during a Semester at Sea and worked at the White House as a correspondence intern in the Office of the First Lady.
Now a master’s graduate from Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy, like other past Super Leaders participants, he has returned to visit with current students and inspire them to pursue their dreams.
Stories like Stewart’s exhibit one of Bischoff’s humble theories at its best: “The number one thing you can do to help a kid graduate from a D.C. high school is care. It’s pretty simple stuff.”
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