Member-To-Member Profile: Graham Covington

Graham Covington co-founded Minds Matter of Portland in 2005, recognizing a need to help highly motivated, economically disadvantaged high school students gain admission and financial aid to four-year colleges and universities.  In addition to his role at Minds Matter of Portland, he is also the Managing Principal of Grease Consulting LLC, a west coast-based management consultancy.

What is Minds Matter and what sparked you to start the organization in Portland? 

Minds Matter is an all-volunteer, not-for-profit academic mentoring organization whose mission is to transform the lives highly motivated, accomplished high school students from low-income families by broadening their horizons of what’s possible, and preparing them for college success.  Our goal is to equip underprivileged high school students with the tools to gain acceptance to four-year colleges and universities, and navigate the financial aid process – helping them to build the critical thinking and communication skills that are the roots of success in life. 

I always had a strong interest in helping to build these skills in youth – beginning when I served as a Big Brother in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program in New York.  Instead of just taking my assigned “little brothers” to the Knicks game or other events, I made it a point to help them with their algebra and grammar, and improve their communications skills as well. I was amazed as to how much we both got out of our time together and how it impacted the rest of both our lives.  After retiring from a long career in the forest products industry, I became familiar with the Minds Matter educational model through my son -- who was a tutor in the Minds Matter program in New York – and I knew it fit right in with my belief that providing disadvantaged kids with the right tools for success could lead to great things.  Along with a small team, we co-founded the Portland chapter of Minds Matter in 2005, helping to introduce motivated socio-economically disadvantaged students to a world of opportunity outside their familiar neighborhoods and comfort zones. Minds Matter students compete to attend in our all-day Saturday sessions as sophomores, juniors, and seniors.  They give up their Saturdays three years in a row for the opportunity to advance their own academic potential.  Despite their circumstances, they exhibit resourcefulness, optimism, and adventurousness. They attend college summer programs for high school students as sophomores and juniors. Both in Portland and nationally, the Minds Matter program has had a tremendous success rate and impacted a great number of young lives: 100% of Minds Matter seniors gain admission and financial aid to four year universities, helping to reinforce our mission that no student dedicated to earning a college education should be limited by socio-economic status.

What do you think is the most important “conversation” people should be having that would make a difference in the world today?

People today seem to feel disempowered that our government is not responsive to the will of the people, and I think one of the most important conversations that we can be having – and teaching our children – is to have the courage to take a stand and not compromise your position.  Don’t be afraid to be “the only one.”  Learn why our Constitution and the Rule of Law provides the foundation to be the best government in the world. The idea that people should have the courage to “stand against the wind” when it comes to supporting what they believe in and enacting change is something that I think we should be addressing in today’s society, which is now as polarized as we’ve ever been on social issues.  In addition, I think that the issue of income inequality is another important conversation that we should be having, and addressing, in our society.

What excites you about joining the Institute and getting involved with other intellectually curious people?

Today, the opportunity to engage in civil conversation, or civil discourse, is diminishing in our everyday lives. Our society is increasingly disengaged from issues that matter, and overly receptive to digital sound bites as the source of information.  We are becoming an uninformed and reactive laity. However, through the Hilton Head Institute and the courageous conversations being held, there is a great opportunity to engage in these deeper civil conversations about how young people in today’s society are living their lives, and the impact that they will have on future generations.  The Institute provides the opportunity for people to expand the conversation and talk about some really important issues, and I’m looking forward to getting involved in these conversations with other members at the upcoming Forum in May.

Is there anything else that we should know about you?

In addition to my role at Minds Matter Portland and Grease Consulting, I’ve been playing and teaching jazz piano in the Pacific Northwest for more than 40 years. I play piano with After Six (www.aftersixjazz.com), a local jazz trio that plays regularly in the Northwest.  One of the reasons that I love to play jazz piano is that it provides the opportunity to improvise – a life skill that I think is critical.  It teaches resilience and persistence.  When you improvise, you are risking mistakes. Improvisation, thinking on one’s feet, is a life-skill that continues to help shape many young lives both in the Minds Matter program and throughout the world.