Annual report

Dear Friends,


In living memory, there has never been a year quite like 2020: a global pandemic, a global movement for racial justice, and a redefinition of work and home on a worldwide scale.

It was a year defined by shocking statistics: more than 300,000 lives have been lost and thousands of communities have been ravaged. Millions of Americans were forced into social isolation – nearly 2/3 were working from home. Schools, gathering places and businesses shut their doors – an estimated 100,000 businesses closing for good. At the height of the first COVID wave, 22 million jobs were lost. Then, in June, millions of Americans took to the streets following the death of George Floyd, as the country was rocked by a much overdue racial reckoning and push for justice after centuries of systemic racism.

Yet at a time when we were more physically distant than ever, we were living through a shared experience on an unprecedented scale, experiencing a new normal – together. Through social media, through Zoom, through videos, we connected on a deeper level, we commiserated, and we shared our experiences. We went beyond the statistics to the stories and humans behind them.

That same spirit of connection also exposed the cracks – the fact that though we share so much, the human experience differs wildly based on race, gender, and socioeconomic status.

It was a wake-up call for many Americans – but not for the students Urban Alliance serves. Our students have lived with the consequences of systemic racism and reduced access to opportunity their entire lives. This year reminded us why we do this work – why we fight for equity every day by ensuring that young Black and Brown students can access the training, social capital, and networks necessary to level the playing field in the world of work.

So this year the Urban Alliance community doubled down on our commitment to our students. We were more than facilitators pivoting to virtual learning, more than coaches guiding our interns’ post-high school plans, more than employers keeping much-needed paychecks coming. We were technical experts, ensuring that our students had the technology needed to learn and work at home. We were counselors and friends, helping our students cope with a scary new reality and uncertainty over their future.

Most of all, we were family, reminding our interns that even in a world where what they look like and the community they come from create barriers to success, there is nothing their talent and drive cannot overcome once that first door has been opened. And we were their platform, helping to ensure that their voices and experiences were heard.

In the spirit of the human connection and the deeper understanding that we have seen this year, we are sharing the story of our work in a different way in this yearbook. You will still see numbers and names, but we are going deeper to tell the stories behind those numbers. And we are letting our students’ voices do the talking.

Thank you for listening. Thank you for standing with our students. And please, stay safe.


With gratitude,


Eshauna Smith

CEO, Urban Alliance


Mary Menell Zients

Board Chair, Urban Alliance

Our Mission

Urban Alliance believes that all young people — no matter their race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background — deserve equal access to the skills training, paid work experiences, and professional networks needed to achieve economic mobility.

Our Vision

Urban Alliance is building a diverse next-generation workforce by providing job skills training, mentoring, and paid internships to young people of color during high school. Since 1996, we’ve provided over 5,700 internships to underserved youth across Washington, DC (including Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, MD), Northern Virginia, Baltimore, Chicago, and Detroit.

We fight for equity by empowering students to access upwardly-mobile careers, expanding their idea of what’s possible for the future while supporting the development of diverse talent pipelines and preventing disconnection from school or the workforce.

In partnership with over 200 employers, we level the playing field for young people of color by equipping them with the tools to overcome the systemic barriers that prevent them from equitably accessing economic opportunity.

Our signature High School Internship Program provides skills training, mentoring, and paid internships to underserved high school seniors who are at risk of disconnecting from school or the workforce. 


Our Model

Paid Internships

Up to 500 hours of paid professional internships at local employers

Early paid work experience is correlated with reduced job search time and increased earning power

(National Bureau of Economic Research; National Association of Colleges and Employers)

Phillip Wince

Northern Virginia Intern – Virginia Tech


Up to 100 hours of soft skills, financial capabilities, and basic digital literacy training

Soft skills-intensive jobs will make up 2/3 of all available jobs by 2030

(Deloitte Access Economics)

Frank Kouadio

DC (Montgomery County) Intern – Impact Silver Spring

One-on-One Mentoring

Dedicated mentoring from caring adult professionals: a UA Program Coordinator and an on-the-job supervisor

High school work-based learning incorporating positive relationships with adults as supervisors and mentors leads to higher-quality jobs in adulthood

(Brookings Institution)

Jasmine Tarleton

Detroit Intern – Quicken Loans


Skill-building and events focused on building professional networks and social capital

Over 70% of jobs are found through networking, but workers from higher-income backgrounds are 3x more likely to have strong professional networks


Raevon Baleikasavu

DC (Montgomery County) Intern – Holy Cross Hospital


Counseling to ensure that students enroll in college or continued career training or secure living-wage work after graduation

A randomized controlled trial found that completing UA increased the likelihood of young men attending college and mid-GPA students enrolling in college

(Urban Institute)

Tiyjalauanna Tipler

Chicago Intern – Golin Harris


Post-program coaching in post-secondary enrollment and persistence as well as career attainment and retention

75% of disconnected youth (youth neither in school nor working) have a high school diploma demonstrating the ongoing need for guidance

(Measure of America)

Kanasia Tidwell

Baltimore Intern – LifeBridge Health

Persevering Through a Year Like No Other

Amidst a global pandemic and a movement for social change, the Urban Alliance Class of 2020 stayed strong – and succeeded. Here are the stories and voices behind the numbers in a year full of disruptions.


of UA interns are students of color


of UA students use their paycheck to contribute to household expenses


of UA students leave the program with a post-high school plan


of alumni graduated from high school


of interns completed the program following the onset of the pandemic


of UA students report increased professional confidence and 9 out of 10 mentors report intern skill growth

of UA interns are students of color

Eduardo Frausto

Chicago Intern – KPMG

A pandemic that disproportionately affected communities of color combined with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 served as a stark reminder of the deep disparities in our country. From access to healthcare, to technology, education, and jobs, opportunity and prosperity is not equally distributed in our society. Many of our students have grown up in a world in which systemic racism in its many forms sends them a message of futility every day, a message that there is no point in dreaming, because your skin will speak for you.

At Urban Alliance, our team and our partners are fighting for racial equity every dayby ensuring that young Black and Brown students can access the training, social capital, and networks necessary to level the playing field in the world of work.We envision a world in which all young people, no matter who they are, where they come from, or what they look like, are able to dream, to reach their fullest potential, and to live the lives they deserve.

of UA students use their paycheck to contribute to household expenses

La’hyniah Phillips

DC Intern – Live It Learn It

From day one of the pandemic, our goal was to keep our students earning and learning. 80% of our students rely on their paychecks to contribute to household expenses — and those paychecks became an even more critical source of income for their families as communities of color were hardest-hit by the healthcare and financial consequences of the virus. Many students also lacked access to the devices or connectivity needed for remote work and distance learning – in some regions, that number was as high as 1 in 3. We worked with partners including the Rock Family of Companies, the Rocket Community Fund, and the Coca-Cola Company to bridge that digital divide for students.

Employer by employer, we determined which students’ roles could easily convert to digital work and which students needed alternate options. 98% of students felt they still made a meaningful contribution to their job sites, despite working remotely. In all, we graduated over 450 interns from the Class of 2020 — all of whom continued to earn and learn through the end of the summer and who were connected to post-high school pathways to economic mobility.

of UA students leave the program with a post-high school plan

Joshua Welch

DC Intern – Bank of America

When COVID-19 closed schools and workplaces seemingly overnight, students were left reeling. Suddenly balancing distance learning with remote work, family caregiving responsibilities, social isolation, and the healthcare and financial consequences of the virus, our students felt unmoored and uncertain. In spring 2020, more than 1 in 3 students anticipated delaying or changing their post-high school plans as a result of the pandemic.

UA staff jumped into action, working one-on-one with every student to walk through their academic, career, and financial post-secondary plans, providing extra support when students had reduced access to school counseling services. Ultimately, the Class of 2020 graduated with confidence for their future: only 5% of students ended up deferring their post-high school plans. On average, 90% of our students are accepted to college and 80% enroll. 80% of our students then remain connected to an economic-mobility pathway (college, living-wage employment, career training, or military) one year post-graduation.

of alumni graduated from high school

Jeremiah McSwain

Chicago Intern – Clayco

Like so many senior-year milestones upended by COVID-19, graduation looked very different for the Urban Alliance Class of 2020. Instead of walking across a stage to receive their diplomas, our students had Zoom graduations and video celebrations from home – and an unexpected opportunity to celebrate with the entire country.

From seeing our students’ smiling faces during CNN’s graduation special, to hearing from our interns on CBS News, Good Morning America, or the local news in DC and Chicago, and seeing our interns dancing and delivering part of the student commencement speech during the nationwide ‘Graduate Together’ TV special – Urban Alliance students showed the nation that joy and hope continue in the darkest times. And for Chicago student Aniyah Fisher, an intern at the Obama Foundation through our joint Obama Youth Jobs Corps program, the challenge of moving to a virtual graduation turned into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to introduce President Barack Obama during his national commencement message – and receive a personal shout-out from him to treasure for years to come.

of interns completed the program following the onset of the pandemic

Estifanos Hailu

Northern Virginia Intern – Inova Health System

During a year of historic challenges, the Urban Alliance community never wavered. From raising record amounts from individual donations to our annual 24-hour fundraiser and COVID-19 student relief fund, to champions reaching out to ask what more they could do for students, our partners rallied around our youth like never before.

Internally, staff also stepped up in an inspiring way, working nights and weekends to redesign and overhaul our program while remaining available to students 24/7. Isolated and overwhelmed, students needed connection and support, and UA staff became teachers, coaches, counselors, social workers, and friends. From hosting honest conversations to help students process the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many more, to organizing panels with healthcare experts so students could separate myth from fact during the pandemic and game or movie sessions to provide some much-needed escapism, UA staff went above and beyond, all from the confines of their home offices. By the end of the program year, 93% of the Class of 2020 completed the program despite the challenges of this year and reported feeling strongly supported by UA – thanks to the ongoing commitment of this community.

of UA students report increased professional confidence and 9 out of 10 mentors report intern skill growth

Jennifer Medrano 

Chicago Intern – mHUB

The shift to remote work showed us more than ever that to be successful in any future job, our students must be equipped with the tools and knowledge to work from anywhere, anytime. Research shows that soft skills – the uniquely human skills that allow for adaptability and success in any workplace – make up 80% of career success.

When we shifted to remote programming, we combed through our soft-skills-focused curriculum lesson by lesson, converting our interactive, in-person skills training into online modules designed to accommodate our full cohort across all five regions. We modified our project-based learning to ensure students were matched with work that contextualized our soft skills curriculum in this new remote environment, while supplementing it with enhanced digital literacy training. We also continued to make our training available outside UA, by leading virtual skills training or train-the-trainer initiatives for Chicago Public Schools teachers, Baltimore YouthWorks staff, and DC Public Schools career academy students. Our program year culminated in a completely new final project, turning our annual in-person Public Speaking Challenge into a Virtual Interview Challenge, teaching the soft skills needed to ace job interviews alongside the technical know-how to do it virtually.

regional spotlights







At the heart of our model are the job partners who provide meaningful, long-term, paid internships for our students. We are also fortunate to have a mix of philanthropic partners to sponsor high school job placements, additional workforce training activities, and lifelong alumni support services.


$8,000 IN A YEAR




All donations and grants over $500 received September 1, 2019 – August 31, 2020.





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