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Building a Home for the Next Generation

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Building a Home for the Next Generation

As the founder of Next Generations Scholars, Sally has been honored as an advocate and activist in the Bay Area and beyond.

As the founder of Next Generations Scholars, Sally has been honored as an advocate and activist in the Bay Area and beyond.

As the founder of Next Generations Scholars, Sally has been honored as an advocate and activist in the Bay Area and beyond.

As the founder of Next Generations Scholars, Sally has been honored as an advocate and activist in the Bay Area and beyond.

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Situated in a humble passage on E Street, fixed between a library, church, and mortuary, Next Generation Scholars (NGS) is inconspicuous.  If it wasn’t for the blue and green sign that sat along the street, most passersby would continue without a second look at the soft grey building.

NGS doesn’t just get students into college. With 88% of alumni on track to graduate in four years, NGS provides students with the skills for long-term success.

Stepping into the building I was immediately greeted with walls decorated head to toe with bright colors.  Smiling alumni, holding family photos and diplomas line the halls. A student drawing of Malcolm X and Cesar Chavez.  Fists of power and strength. A basketball jersey. NGS radiates motivation. Every corner of the two-story home turned nonprofit is caring and comfortable.  The sound of laughing students and test prep bounce along the walls as I walk up the stairs and around another brightly decorated corner to Sally Matsuishi’s office.

Next Generation Scholars graduates attend some of the country’s most prestigious Ivy League Colleges and Universities in the country.

As the founder of the organization, one would assume that Sally stays occupied paperwork.  But she has defied the odds in that sense. As I nervously step in her office she is seated at a table next to a student, offering SAT prep and quickly tells me to come in.  I ask how her day is going and she replies quickly but wholeheartedly, “Good! Busy, doing lots of stuff, but I’m glad that you’re here.”

She makes me feel right at home in an unfamiliar office. She smiles as she prepares to divulge the roots of NGS.

Sally’s path to becoming the founder of Next Generation Scholars, an organization that hopes to “level the playing field [to higher education] by providing dedicated underserved students with all the advantages available to those of privilege,” is less of a straight line from Point A to Point B, but more of a circle.  Splitting her adolescent life between Branson, San Rafael and South Central Los Angeles, Sally has learned to walk in the two worlds, many of her students are learning to navigate. “I learned almost everything that made me successful in the white world. I actually learned there behind San Rafael High School.”

After spending most of her life in California, Sally had worked her way into a spot at Vassar college in New York.  It was during this time, that Sally met her greatest mentors and inspirations for NGS. Sally met one of her first mentors during her time working in her school’s admissions office.  

As the first queer, man of color, to serve as head of admissions he was “super radical and…super out there.  But he was a visionary.” His views on diversity not only inspired Sally but attempted to turn her very definition of diversity on its head.  “He says you can’t just write every year that you want to do diversity and inclusion and have all-white admissions, upper middle class, all white…Nobody’s gonna believe that, because it’s not real”.  

Sitting in the admissions office with her peers, discussing ways to encourage diversity without simply “cherry-picking students of color” Sally soon realized that “cherry picking one kid of color and bring[ing] them over here is not social justice. That’s dumb.  And also a lot of work and not sustainable.” In the coming years, it is these very ideas that would become the foundation of NGS.

Sally and her family currently reside in Marin, as she shifts her focus to solely college prep at NGS.

While her understanding of diversity and equity began in the admissions office, Sally’s actions in founding NGS would begin in a classroom with Dr. Betty Shabazz.  While Shabazz was known to many as Malcolm X’s widow, Sally notes that she was brilliant in her own right and much more than just a teacher to her. “We would walk in every day and she would greet us and put her hands on your face and she would tell you a good thing you should think about yourself that day…that’s a very powerful thing from an older Aunty type figure.”  Shabazz, however, hard a grader, had become family.

It was in her class that Sally was challenged to “identify something in our community that sucked and then how we would fix it.” Looking back on her time at a Branson, while coming from a family of “migrant workers and maids,” the idea of NGS was practically created for her. Not only was her idea for the organization birthed from a school project, her teachers and school mentors served as great inspirations to her work.  

Despite finding the perfect issue to tackle, and finding a genuine motivation to change something in her community, Shabazz didn’t settle for Sally’s initial plan, “I turned it in and she was like…you need to go further.  This is not enough. You need to push this further…She told me I was tiny but mighty and I had a great idea and I had to go forward.” With a whopping 100% of Next Generation Scholars receiving the necessary financial aid to attend college, Sally’s model of diversity has worked.  

Maybe, it’s her unwavering work ethic or her deeply personal understandings of diversity- but Sally’s students’ success is undeniable.  What sets Sally and Next Generation Scholars apart from several other organizations focused on educational equity, is her complete faith in her students, regardless of whether or not they receive her help – “they’re not gonna be in a hole, it’s just a little bit of help.”

She doesn’t do it to inspire them, she does it to be inspired.  “Every single day I work with students and alumni …every day [I] think, oh my god, these kids are badasses.”  While she has had the honor to work with students who have gone on to serve as the Press Secretary for Nancy Pelosi, Sally never overlooks the everyday achievements of her students. “When a kid comes in here and sits on this couch and tells me the story of their day…it’s an honor to know that kid.”

While Sally’s intentions are not to “save” her students, she most definitely has become a strong influence on them.  Sally’s life work has been shaped by mentors and teachers, whose own philosophies have formed her understandings of diversity and inclusion.  She’s come full circle.

Becoming a mentor to her students, sharing her own philosophies, and instilling values of equity and hard work in her students, Sally has become the mentor she needed when she was young. Her love and passion extend beyond the students who spend time in the home she’s created on the humble corner of E Street, but in everyone who crosses her path.  As soon as the microphone turned off, my interview began.  “How are you doing with everything?”

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