Parker High School graduate: Birmingham Promise cleared pathways to future

Birmingham, Ala. — As a student at Parker High School, Justin Williams had an idea of what he wanted to be, and he believes he would have found a way to get there. But Birmingham Promise removed any doubts, clearing the path for Williams to achieve his goals.

Under a Birmingham Promise scholarship, Williams is now a freshman at the University of Alabama. The scholarship means he can focus on his computer engineering studies rather than worry about scraping together tuition or running up massive debt. “It’s definitely peace of mind, which is a very good thing to have,” he said.

While still in high school, Williams also had work opportunities as an apprentice as part of the Birmingham Promise program, experiences that, among other things, let him earn some money and get a glimpse of life in his chosen career.

“One of the driving factors was wanting to be in the computer space,” Williams said. “I wanted to make sure this was a path I wanted to go down.”

Birmingham Promise was created by the city of Birmingham’s Office of Innovation and Economic Opportunity, with funding approved by the City Council and additional support from the private sector, to help students like Williams discover and achieve their dreams. The program provides students in Birmingham City Schools experience as apprentices as well as college tuition assistance.

The benefits of Birmingham Promise are obvious: On the apprentice side, a job and a paycheck. On the scholarship side, a college education. But Williams points at far more subtle rewards.

Between his junior and senior years, Williams’ first apprenticeship involved working in information technology at Encompass Health. While he took away countless lessons related to workplace success, he considers the best part to be the people he met — including one colleague who ended up giving him a car.

“I met a lot of good people, people I’d like to work with again someday,” Williams said. “I’ll always be able to go back to them for advice or a reference.”

His second apprenticeship, in his final semester of high school, was cut short by COVID. But in the two months he spent at Fleetio, Williams got to experience a different kind of workplace — smaller, less segmented, less structured. There, he spent time in technology, but he also spent time in all other departments, including shadowing sales executives.

He encourages students in Birmingham City Schools to take advantage of the programs available to them through Birmingham Promise.

“If the opportunity arises for anyone, they should at least try,” he said. “If you don’t, you’re selling yourself short. Starting is the hardest part of anything new.”