One of the reasons I wrote The Other Wes Moore was to highlight the critical work service organizations around the country are doing on behalf of families, single parents, kids and veterans. I want to applaud their commitment and the services they provide, draw people who need help to them, and encourage those who can donate time or funds to the organizations to do so.
In this space I will be posting thoughts and information from and about these groups. E-mail me at wes [at] theotherwesmoore.com if you are an organization founder, staff member or volunteer who has something to share. Here’s an amazing post from Theresa Thomas who is a City Year corps member with City Year New York. She has devoted the past year to working in the New York public school system with kids who are most at the risk of dropping out. City Year’s motto is “Give a Year. Change the World.” Theresa is doing just that.
My name is Theresa Thomas. I am 22 years old. I graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia last May. I grew up in Newark, NJ. My upbringing plays a huge role in why I joined City Year. Neither of my parents graduated from high school. My parents had me at a very young age and split up soon after. My mom remarried and had four other kids. Growing up, my mom could not focus all her attention on me because she had other kids. I went to a very tight knit school and the teachers and other staff members played a crucial role in my upbringing. They always made sure I knew about all the extracurricular activities the city offered and supported me in many ways. They were able to answer my questions about high school and college. If it weren’t for them I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. Although many of my friends went to the same school and interacted with the same staff members, many of my friends are on very different paths. Some of my closest friends and family members ended up pregnant, in jail, and sadly enough some of them were killed at very young ages. Thinking back I realized not everyone received the same support from the teachers. Teachers were definitely more invested in those already on the right path. Not many teachers at my school poured their hearts out to those that needed it the most. After my uncle and one of my very good friends were killed, I started thinking a lot about this issue, and it made me want to change my career path from occupational therapy to education. I wanted to work with off-track students who needed the extra push and someone advocating for them. I wanted to play the same role that many teachers played in my life to students in urban settings.
Senior year, during one of my frantic episodes of trying to figure out my life someone told me about City Year. I immediately looked it up. When I found out my primary task would be working with students who were at risk of dropping out, I knew this was the job for me. I immediately applied and now I’m here, making a difference in the lives of many students. For those of you who don’t know, City Year is a National Service Organization that unites a diverse group of 17–24 year olds for a year of full time service in public schools to combat the national dropout crisis. We do this by targeting students who struggle with attendance, behavior, and coursework such as Math and English. Most of the communities we work in have a graduation rate of 50% or less. This makes these students three times more likely to be unemployed and eight times more likely to end up in prison than their peers that do graduate. This is devastating and this is what we work to reverse while in the schools from 7:45am until 6pm every day. Although my days are very long and sometimes stressful it is all worth it because I know that I am making a difference.
I have very high expectations for all the students I work with and I push them well beyond their limits. In the beginning of the year I started tutoring a 6th grade boy name Antonio. Antonio struggled with reading multisyllabic words; he entered my session with a score of %40. Antonio also struggled with attendance and behavior. I wanted to work with Antonio because I knew he had potential. I recruited Antonio into our after-school program. In doing so I could build a relationship with Antonio and work with him during after-school. On days that he did come to school I was able to tutor him twice a day. In less than two months Antonio raised his ability to read multisyllabic words by 45%. That proved to Antonio he was smart and able to succeed if he put his mind to it. He graduated out of my tutoring program, but was still struggling with academics. During after-school he never wanted to do homework. He eventually resisted my efforts and stopped coming to after-school and his attendance was at an all time low missing 2 or 3 days a week, but I refused to give up. Every day I saw him I encouraged him to come back to after-school and continuously called his mom. Then, when I went on vacation I get a call from another corps member’s phone at the start of after-school. It was Antonio telling me he was back in after-school and wanted to know where I was. That call made me more excited than ever to return to work. Ever since Antonio’s return he has been consistent on attendance and has taken several leadership roles in after-school. When he didn’t have homework we got him to do 45 minutes of test prep for state exams. He eventually came to us and confided in us that he was not only failing math and constantly being kicked out of class, but he genuinely did not understand what was going on and needed our help before the math assessment. Antonio has been diligently working on his academics with us, and has less behavioral infractions. I cannot emphasize enough how proud I am of him. Antonio is not the only student we work with, many of my coworkers have a child like Antonio and a story like mine and this is how I know we are making a difference!
I worked with Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) to make sure that all graduating 8th and 12th grade NFTE Baltimore students received a copy of The Other Wes Moore. Here’s a photo of the students from Forest Park and Frederick Douglass High Schools who received the books while on a fieldtrip to New York.
I’m thrilled about the reports I’ve been receiving from NFTE, as well as other organizations and schools across the country, saying that they are assigning the book in book groups with their kids, or providing it as a graduation gift to their students. I’m honored to be a part of their conversation and celebration!
I want to thank everyone for your tremendous support since THE OTHER WES MOORE was published two weeks ago. The amount of good wishes you’ve sent my way is humbling, and the creativity you’ve used to spread word about the book is amazing! Please know that it’s working: On May 16th, THE OTHER WES MOORE will enter the New York Times Nonfiction Bestseller list at #5. The book also debuted at #5 on this past weekend’s Wall Street Journal bestseller list for their special weekly spotlight list, Biography/Autobiography.
Please continue to spread the word, post reviews, and share my schedule of book signings in 9 U.S. cities throughout the month of May. I feel the mission of the book spreading, and it would not be possible without your help.
I am elated by the feedback, the e-mails and letters I have received so far. What I hoped for is coming to fruition; that people understand this book is about so much more than a story of two boys’ lives and their different journeys into manhood. It is providing hope and resources for the single moms and dads who are raising a family on their own; the teachers who are working with at-risk youth; the teenagers who know there is a world outside of the inner-city or rural plains they call home, but don’t know how to scale the walls to get to it; the non-profit organizations that are on the frontlines of fighting for the tomorrow of our nation’s children each and every day, and for all of us to better appreciate our own lives and decisions, and our potency in the lives of others. I want to reiterate, as I did in the book and in interviews, this book is not about casting some revisionist history about the tragic events that led to Wes’ final imprisonment or casting doubts about the sentencing. This book is intended to question why Wes’ fate was sealed long before his judgment and what can be done to avoid future tragedies. As I said in the first few pages of the book, let us not ever forget the victims of Feb 7, 2000, and all of the children, widows, mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends on all sides who were left behind because of these choices. This book is intended to spurn debate and action in all of us.
I received a note from a 14-year-old boy who spent time at a juvenile detention center in Maryland. He wrote that an older kid told him to read THE OTHER WES MOORE, and he begrudgingly did. He said reading the book helped highlight that he does not want to lead a life going in and out of detention facilities. He said he now knows what kind of man he wants to be — and that he believes he can be. I am blessed that he contacted me. I also heard from a woman who told me she was at her wits end with her 15 year old son when she read this book, and since reading it, she was reminded why she mustn’t give up on him. Stories like these are why I wrote this book.
Let’s keep the conversation going.
I had the privilege of addressing the students at the Eagle Academy in the Bronx on Wednesday, May 5. Founded by One Hundred Black Men, Inc. and led by my good friend, David Banks, this is an amazing high school whose “mission is a direct response to the urgent need to reverse abysmal graduation and college completion rates among young men in urban centers, particularly African-American males. The Eagle Academy Foundation tailored curriculum is based on the developmental stages and learning styles of young men as well as the unique challenges facing urban youth.
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My first book signing at B&N on Manhattan’s Upper West Side (82nd St and Broadway) Thursday night, May 6, made me feel like a REAL author. A surreal but wonderful and very gratifying experience. Old friends and colleagues were joined by people who had read or heard about the book from recent media coverage. We also had three special speakers: Tiara Killings, a 17 year-old from PAL (The Police Athletic League), Damian Travier, Director, Education and Leadership Development for the Jackie Robinson Foundation, and Theresa Thomas, 22, who is just completing her City Year.
The part of the book of which I might be most proud, is the Resource Guide in the back. This is a list of over 200 organizations that are mentoring kids, teaching them important life skills and that they should expect more from themselves. They are also showing kids the importance of giving back to others around them. I wanted to make sure that those parents and kids who read the book and need help have someplace to turn; philanthropists and volunteers who want to reach out, know there are many amazing organizations worthy of their time and assistance; and that these organizations, who are bearing much of the burden of helping our nation’s kids do and be more, are recognized and applauded. These special guests, who spoke so passionately about the mission of their respective organizations, got people thinking.
You can view the full set of Tamer Shibani’s wonderful photos on Flickr
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I am pleased to announce a partnership between the book tour for “The Other Wes Moore” and three national nonprofit organizations, Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, and 100 Black Men of America. There are over 200 organizations at the back of the book that are all doing wonderful things in our communities, and I urge you to support them. I am also excited to highlight these three non-profit partners and the fabulous contribution they are making to the lives of students, law enforcement and military veterans, and our community at large. Please visit these links to learn more:
Additionally, I am honored to announce that two organizations will receive a portion of book proceeds for the life of the book. One, the US Dream Academy, focuses on assisting and creating opportunities for children who have one or both parents incarcerated. The other, City Year, unites young people of all backgrounds for a year of full-time service, giving them the skills and opportunities to change the world. I am excited that a portion of every book purchased will go towards making sure these organizations thrive and continue to serve our community.
We cannot just talk about it, we must be about it. As Margaret Meade said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”