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That link was vividly brought home to Biddanda and his
classmate, Shakari Cameron, when they spent a day last December
observing the work of their adviser, Kevin Johnson, a former NBA
All-Star and founder of the St. Hope Corporation, a Sacramento-based
nonprofit group dedicated to revitalizing inner-city communities
through charter schools, civic leadership, economic development
and the arts. The students met with key figures and partners that
Johnson works with in Oak Park, a neighborhood where he grew up.
In the meetings, Biddanda and Cameron heard how Johnson and his
associates went about planning, implementing and evaluating the
success of about a dozen businesses, scores of jobs and $7.5 million
in development projects in Oak Park over the past 15 years.
During a tour of a renovated indoor theater at the 40 Acres Art
Gallery and Cultural Center, one of Johnson's public projects, Biddanda
came across a middle-aged man in a wheelchair. He was gaping at
the 200-seat theater. When somebody explained to him that films,
concerts, workshops and special events would be featured at the
facility, "he reacted with an expression of disbelief, and
then an understanding that he could have access to the theater,"
recalls Biddanda. "It dawned on him that art can play an important
role in his life."
On his return from Sacramento, Biddanda resolved to earnestly pursue
his ambition of making public policy an instrument of truly constructive
social change. He knows well that to succeed he would need to bring
"the right resources at the right time to the right people"
— just as Johnson has done to great public acclaim in Sacramento.
And he knows that as a student he still has a long way to go before
he can follow in the footsteps of someone like Johnson.
"Oftentimes it is difficult to understand how best to apply
academic course work to practical and real-life situations,"
says Johnson, adding that he shared this frustration with his students
during their time together. But the important thing to remember,
he told them, is that everything they learn, in the classroom or
outside it, will equip them to succeed in their future work. As
Johnson puts it: "What might not be readily apparent now will
shine bright when needed."