In 2003, the Clark State Community College Foundation recognized the need to encourage more local students to attend college. They collaborated with the Springfield City School District to annually identify middle school students who would become the first in their family to earn a college degree. These students would become the Champion City Scholars.
One of those students was 2009 Springfield High School graduate and salutatorian, Justin Pinn. “I was selected for this outstanding program while at Schaefer Middle School,” Pinn said. “I had the great fortune of having many dedicated individuals who looked out for me and encouraged me to apply.”
Pinn had already started making a name for himself in Springfield City Schools as the Spelling Bee Champion of Emerson Elementary in 5th grade and being involved in Kiwanis Builder's Club.
Following graduation from Springfield High School, Pinn traveled to Washington, D.C. to pursue his passion for politics. As a first-generation college student at Georgetown University, he pushed through many academic and financial barriers. “Even with the best of intentions from the dedicated and loving staff at Springfield High School, I was no doubt academically behind when I arrived at Georgetown University,” said Pinn. “Coming from public school and competing with kids at boarding and private prep schools...the task was daunting.”
Pinn worked two jobs while attending college to help support his family financially. Majoring in English and government, Pinn held positions as an intern for United States Senator Sherrod Brown, served as a teaching assistant, led in student government and helped create mentorship models that would later impact his teaching and calling in life.
“Growing up, I just always loved to help people,” said Pinn. “As early as the age of five, I would watch President Bill Clinton speak on television and tell my mother that I too wanted to be President of the United States. I love serving my community. I've always been drawn towards service.”
Pinn said being a part of the Marine Corps JROTC in high school gave him a deep sense of civic engagement and admiration for the men and women in uniform.
“Then, in 2008, I joined then Senator Barack Obama's campaign and loved speaking with citizens around Springfield, Ohio,” Pinn said. “I wanted to work for McCain's campaign too because at that time I was unsure of my political affiliation. At the end of the day, my belief is we are all Americans and shouldn't just be divided by party affiliation.”
Pinn said growing up in Springfield provided him with the unique environment of just seeing people for who they are, not just party affiliation. “Being a part of Champion City Scholars exposed me to public officials of both parties and showed me that service to community is important to all of us,” he said.
The program exposed Pinn to leaders in the Clark County community and planted a seed for his future political and civic aspirations.
Upon graduation from Georgetown, Pinn received the Coakley Medal, which is presented annually at the Georgetown College of Arts and Sciences Commencement to a member of the senior class who manifested the qualities of service, honor and courage in all phases of his or her college life.
Today, Pinn can be found in Florida teaching in the nation’s fourth largest school district: Miami-Dade County Public Schools. He also serves on the Board of Advisers for the Venture Academy Charter Network, as a Board of Trustee for the Casimiro Global Foundation, and is working on expending mentorship for youth throughout Miami and beyond. “I currently mentor other students across the country through events where we have met. Some in New York, Texas, Washington, DC, and more,” he said.
Because of his passion for service and for providing access through education, Pinn was recently named by Legacy Magazine as “South Florida's Top 40 under 40 Black Leaders of Today and Tomorrow for 2015.”
Pinn credits his success to the Champion City Scholars Program and the people who took the time to expose him to a better future and possibilities. “When things became dark or challenging in my childhood, I turned to the people in my program for support and they kept my flame, my vision and dream of going to college and changing my family's living situation, lit and well fueled,” he said. “What allowed me to not only survive, but thrive was the mentorship and support that this program provided.”
Students in the Champion City Scholars Program must attend school regularly, exhibit good citizenship, demonstrate satisfactory progress in classes, participate in Champion City Scholars Program activities and remain enrolled in the Springfield City School District; they must also be the first in their family to attend college.
Once selected for the Champion City Scholars Program, students participate in activities to help them be successful in middle school, high school and college. More than 500 students from the Springfield City School district have been selected as Champion City Scholars in the last 11 years, and 87 percent of the Scholars who graduated from Springfield High School enrolled in college after graduation; 61 percent enrolled at Clark State and 26 percent enrolled at four-year colleges and universities.
The application process for the 2015-16 class of scholars will begin in August of this year, with an application deadline of mid-September.