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Meet Justin Pinn of Breakthrough Miami

Today we’d like to introduce you to Justin Pinn.

Justin, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Being born into an environment where your zip code attempts to predetermine your educational outcomes and life trajectory are societal dynamics I know well. My mother had me at the age of 17 and my biological father abandoned me after conception. My stepfather, the only man in my life, chose a venture as a drug dealer; putting my family in danger multiple times and leaving us several times for prison. I was forced to grow up much faster than those who were my age. I attended a low-performing high school that encompasses the same demographics of where I now serve. I was able to take my academics seriously while providing for my family financially. Fortunately, I was able to become a Gates Millennium Scholar and a Coca-Cola Scholar. I graduated with 1.2 million dollars in scholarships. In addition to breaking the glass ceiling for my family by being accepted to and graduating from Georgetown University, while working to support my family financially.

While teaching, I completed a full-time master’s of science in educational studies at the Johns Hopkins University and earned a 3.9 GPA. Because of my success in and outside of the classroom, I have been named by Legacy Magazine, 2015 Top 40 under 40 Black Leaders and 2015 Top Black Educator in South Florida. I am an advisory board member for the Nyah project where we teach international human factor leadership and send approximately 12 inner-city high school students on an international trip each year (Ghana, Costa Rica, and Namibia).

In July of 2016, I was appointed by the City of Miami Commission as an advisory board member over the Miami Police Department given a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice with regards to excessive use of force. Given my work as a board member within this committee, my colleagues decided to elect me as the chairman of our board in February of 2017.

Currently, I work for Breakthrough Miami as the Founding Director of two academies. At Breakthrough, I oversee and help manage two Children’s Trust grants worth over $400,000 and ensure we are in compliance with the Children’s Trust. I manage all logistics and transportation for all Breakthrough Miami sites participating in the STEM Academy. My site currently serves 120 students (5th-9th grade). Additionally, I oversee the curriculum implementation and create innovative ways to reach middle and high school students through my second academy, Scholar Success Academy located at the Carnival Center for Excellence. At Breakthrough, I have been tasked with helping lead our organization’s rebranding efforts, advocacy at the state level, building partnerships within the community and helping steer collaboration across all of our locations.

Lastly, I am currently 27 years 0ld and I am currently a full-time doctoral student at Barry University in organizational learning and leadership where I hope to help build upon our community’s educational success/outcomes. It is my goal that no child’s dream shall be deferred.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Life is a journey and we all start at various levels and starting points. As I tell my students, “It’s not always where you start, but it’s more important where you finish!” With that said, there definitely has been challenges in my life, but despite those challenges I draw a lot of my strength to push through life obstacles because I have always had a strong mother who has always had to overcome obstacles in her life. I’m also a descendant of homemakers, automakers and a proud people that only knows how to persist and persevere throughout life. So, I suppose it’s in my DNA. Moreover, a great challenge for me was going from a low-income community and ending up at a prestigious institution such as Georgetown University. The challenge for any first-generation student is a daunting one, but for me it meant coming up to speed very quickly and truly learning how to think critically, improve my writing skills and be able to navigate a very affluent community that was very different from my roots (socioeconomically).

Breakthrough Miami – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Breakthrough provides an academic enrichment program that uses a students-teaching-students model to ensure that motivated, under-resourced middle-school students have access to excellent high-school opportunities, graduate from high school on time and attend college. Its mission is two-fold:

1) Increase academic opportunity for highly motivated, underserved students and put them on the trajectory of a successful college path; and
2) Inspire and develop the next generation of teachers and educational leaders.

The program had its start as Summerbridge Miami, which was launched on the campus of Ransom Everglades School in 1991. It was designed to help talented middle-school students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds overcome the racial, cultural and economic barriers to academic achievement. The six-week summer program, taught by high-school and college student interns, served just 40 students. In 2007, the program, re-branded as Breakthrough Miami, was recognized for its excellence by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with a five-year grant of $3.25 million to expand to 1,000 students and provide programs through high-school graduation. In 2017, 1,200 middle and high-school students are enrolled at five sites. This tuition-free 8-year program now guides students from 5th through 12th grade and operates on school-year Saturdays as well as during summer.

Breakthrough Miami uses a comprehensive approach to learning that addresses the knowledge, skills and experiences young people need to succeed. Our approach involves collaborating with leading community organizations to deliver an integrated full-day, six weeks summer and a school-year program for motivated middle and high school students. The program accelerates academic progress and builds skills associated with success not only in school but also in college and careers.

The Breakthrough Miami Program successfully addresses the opportunity gap by providing multi-layering of best-in-class programming and support including:

 Year Round Programming (School Year & Summer)
 Academic Foundation & Support (Preparation for the upcoming school year)
 Exposure to Enrichment Activities (i.e. Community Service, Experiential Learning Field Trips, State & Out-of-State College Tours)
 Tutoring and Mentoring (Peer-to-Peer, Adult-to-Scholar, Parent-to-Parent)
 Continuity of Care (Breakthrough Scholars remain in the Breakthrough program for 8 years)
 School and College/University Options Support
 College Access, Readiness & Success
 Networking through the Breakthrough Alumni Network

1200 under-resourced students from 5th Grade through High School who are:
 94% Ethnic/Racial Minority
 84% Free/Reduced Lunch
 34% First Generation to Attend College in the U.S.
 47% Single Parent Household
 44% Primary Language other than English
 98% Students with 2 or more Risk Factors
 68% Students with 3 or more Risk Factors
 95% Attend Miami-Dade’s Public Schools

At Breakthrough Miami, I am the STEM Academy Director and lead the Success academy. My role and function is to inspire students from under-served communities to consider STEM as a field in the future, but also ensuring my scholars are afforded the same type of opportunities that their more affluent peers would be exposed to on a daily basis. Ultimately, I help create leaders and change lives.

I am most proud of the fact that Breakthrough Miami has a 100% HS graduation rate, 100% college acceptance, and our scholars are receiving prestigious scholarships to attend prestigious institutions.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
This is a tough one because there have been so many. What I am most proud of is last year a group of students that I had been personally mentoring were able to receive full-ride scholarships and attend Syracuse University, the University of Miami, and the University of Florida. This work is tough because as an educator I cannot control every thing my students do, but the rewarding part is watching them grow up, mature, and be as great as I always knew they could be…

Also, another proud moment for me was having two of my former students grant me the honor of being their child’s godfather. Although I do not get to see him often, I know he is going to be an excellent young man because he has excellent parents. Those two former students have overcome so many obstacles as young parents, but have always kept their education at the forefront and will soon be the first in their respective families to graduate from college.

Another proud moment was being named a national 2017 Afterschool Ambassador by the Afterschool Alliance. I was recognized for my commitment and ability to advocate for afterschool programs across the nation and specifically in Florida. Lastly, having the honor of being named a 2016 BMe Leader by BMe Community, which is a national organization that chooses 10 black males in certain cities around the country for being “community geniuses” and uplifting them on a national platform. This organization proves that Black males are assets within their communities.


  • Supporting a Scholar in Breakthrough Miami for one year (summer included) is: $1800
  • Supporting Nyah Fellows: $3500 per student

Contact Info:

  • Address: 3250 SW 3rd Ave., 6th Floor
    Miami, FL 33129
  • Website:
  • Phone: 305-615-0222
  • Email:
  • Instagram: @breakthroughmiami
  • Facebook: @BreakthroughMia
  • Twitter: @BreakthroughMia
  • Other: @justinmspinn

Getting in touch: VoyageMIA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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