ELEVATE

Elevate is the blog about the people and organizations that answer a call to action everyday and empower those who are less fortunate but equally deserving. They give back, never ask for anything in return, and they elevate others unto new worlds.

Guest Blogger: Theresa Thomas

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!

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Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship Book Donations

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!

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A tremendous thank you…

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.

Ele­vate,
Wes

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The Eagle Academy

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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Barnes & Noble Event 5/26/2010

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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Book proceeds

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:

www.iava.org
www.nfte.com
www.100blackmen.org

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.

www.usdreamacademy.org/
www.cityyear.org

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.”

Ele­vate,
Wes

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THE OTHER WES MOORE is the story of two kids with the same name, living in the same decaying city. One grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated combat veteran, White House fellow, and business leader. The other is serving a life sentence in prison for felony murder. This is the story of two boys in the journey of a generation.

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