I sit here this evening making a list of the millions of things I need to do and my mind keeps going back to the morning I experienced today.
I woke up early, had a slice of toast, drove to train, came back home, showered, ate again and headed to participate in Delray Reads Day, a day dedicated to reading to students K-5 in Delray Beach as part of the Grade Level Reading Initiative.
I expected to go into the morning introduction ceremony at the Old School Square Gymnasium with a smile on my face and a positive attitude, and fortunately, I did. But after moments of feeling bubbly and carefree, a student took the stage to speak about how education, particularly reading, has changed her life. My smiles and laughs turned into quivering lips and tears almost instantly.
This girl who spoke is a student at Atlantic Community High School in Delray Beach. She moved here from Haiti following a tragic earthquake she witnessed take the lives of her friends and family. When she moved here, she had hope that she would make a better life, but it was the exact opposite. She said her life became worse.
She was ridiculed and made fun of for the way she spoke, dressed, looked, and smelled ... she was bullied about everything. The bullying became so bad that she admitted she would cut herself to try to mask the pain she felt inside … A young girl cutting herself … resorting to intentional, self-inflicted abuse because she could no longer face the pain her peers were putting her through … This is heartbreaking.
How people can bully and live with themselves and how their parents do nothing about it is beyond me and something I won't ever be able to comprehend ... but this young lady beat the odds when she was fortunate enough to have a teacher step in. A teacher … an educator … a mentor … someone who has no legal obligation to this child, yet felt compelled to make a difference in her life. This teacher helped the young lady with all of her subjects, but particularly with reading. She encouraged this girl to go after all that she desired and was there for her during the process.
The young girl who was once so far behind in education and self-love, now sits at a 3.9 GPA, is in a leadership position in several school committees and will be attending UCF next Fall to major in Engineering. When she told her story, I was completely blown away … and so were the other hundred people who were wiping their eyes while simultaneously attempting to participate in the standing ovation.
What this world fails to understand is that for one, we’ve got kids being bullied, and what’s worse are the kids doing the bullying … but on a bigger scale, we’ve got kids out in this world who resort to intentional, self-inflicted pain to hide bigger problems they think they have to face alone. The only thing the young girl ever wanted was a better life. This girl has more strength than you and me combined, yet at one point, felt so weak.
We’ve got children who hear 30-million more words …THIRTY MILLION MORE WORDS … by the time they reach first grade than some children hear in a lifetime.
Do you all understand that criminal statistics can be determined by whether or not we, or our children, learn to read by third grade? … Third grade …
So while you and your family go on a vacation this summer and read road signs and fancy restaurant menus, there are children on the streets who go all day without eating … who are left in front of a TV with a babysitter or a neighbor while mom or dad either works more than one job, backing up everything I say in this post about education being important so you can work one job that financially supports your family instead of three to five, or they’re involved in more serious circumstances like hitting the crack pipe with so and so’s sister and side chick’s baby daddy.
No child … NO CHILD should have to grow up feeling as though they don’t matter. Sometimes, the only person that child has is a teacher … an educator … someone who understands the importance of education and will do anything to get the job done.
After the emotional speech by the brave ACHS student, we went to read at our school of choice. I chose Plumosa School of the Arts … a school consumed by 80% of children who are on free or reduced lunches and 12% who choose to attend the school for a better education.
I read Tikki Tikki Tembo to the Mrs. Capana’s 5th grade class and I fell in love. The class was filled with championship football players and basketball players who have dreams of playing professionally … computer whizzes who want to work for Apple … dancers who intend on applying to Julliard … TV production students who want to work for CNN … These classes are filled with students who have dreams … who have talent … who at such a young age need all the education and support they can get … but the unfortunate statistic is that some or most of those children go home at night with no mom or dad to read them bedtime stories … no hot meal at a dinner table talking about current events … no healthy breakfast in the morning with some words of wisdom to help seize the day … it breaks me in two to think about that.
I was inspired by educators and children today in a way I’ve never experienced before. Third graders asking for an extra book so they can give it to their brother or sister … fifth graders smiling at the sight of having someone read to them … teachers coming together to help make today a special day for so many who may never get to experience it again.
We take so many things for granted, but education is at the core. Without education, we are nothing and without educators who truly love what they do and truly seek to make a difference in a child’s life, we can’t progress.
Today was about changing the life of a child who may otherwise end up helpless like the Atlantic High School student once was. But today, the children and teachers changed me … they forever changed my life.
Thank you to every teacher, professor, coach, mentor, educator, parent and parent-figures I‘ve had in my life … good or bad … nice or mean … you’ve all played a role in helping me become the person I am today and it’s in my prayers that your work continues to change the lives of so many children around you who need it. GOD BLESS YOU ALL!!!!