Since my pre-teen years, I have had the urge to volunteer in the community. First, it was vacation bible school at my local church. Then at local soup kitchens, and finally to co-founding a successful nonprofit organization. I feel prideful that that organization now serves over 200 youth in 10 area middle school programs and in partnership with area high schools and community teams. However, my feeling that we need to do more has taken me along my own path to launch another program that I feel will greatly prepare our youth, families, and communities to be able to become more productive citizens.
My first real memories of life started in the Perkins projects. My family and I would move many times(approx. 10) over the years. I can say that I have lived in most areas of Baltimore. I believe this makes it easier for me to adapt and overcome. Back in the day, you had to fight your way to peace when you moved into a new neighborhood. Unknown to most(until now..lol) I also had to endure living with a mentally and physically abusive stepfather. This also came with the challenge of withstanding the peer pressures of drugs, sex, and crime, and escaping the traps that can come from living in a single parent household. At an early age, she imparted that helping others was a responsible burden that I should bear and take solace in the fact that I have helped another. It is a testament to God that has kept me from falling prey to the pitfalls placed before me. My mother faithfully kept my sister and me in the church. Our faith in God and her constant emphasis on being “God-like” had been a saving grace for me. It led me to focus on education, which led me to many other educational opportunities and programs. Programs like Lemmel’s Advanced Academics, the Johns Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth and my high school’s Advanced health occupations course help keep my attention away from the streets.
Programs like Lemmel’s Advanced Academics, the Johns Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth(CTY) and my high school’s Advanced health occupations course help keep my attention away from the streets. It was the mentors of these programs that made me feel like I belonged and that people other than my family cared for my well-being. One of my most vivid memories came when I told my CTY instructors(I really wish I could remember their names) that I could not continue the course. It was not just their words but the palpable feeling of care that they conveyed through their eyes and actions. I could sense the regret of loss but also their hope of success.
Life became more “stable” once I started to attend the unheralded Dunbar High School. Our mantra “Poet Pride” reflects our great abundance of school spirit and a winning culture that was nurtured by exceptional leaders. It was within that environment and through athletics, that I began to “find” my identity. Wrestling, football, and track showed me different aspects of teamwork. Our teams, similar to most high schools, comprised a band of flawed youth. However, through great coaching, our strengths were orchestrated into a harmonious concerto. Dunbar will always be a main focal point in the procession of awesome people to come along in my life.
Some say “only once you leave home you will then see the real world.”
It’s scary to leave the safe confines of home. All I knew was to be left behind. I went on to college in a new town to meet new people and learn new things. The real world quickly was becoming my world.
College was the start of my trek into manhood and in the military is where I became a man. I met some amazing people in college and had some unforgettable experiences. I understand college may not be for everyone but that it is something everyone should try. It is not only a great way to gain higher learning but also a great buffer to towards reality.
Many in Baltimore have lost their faith. This loss of confidence has also tainted the mindset of our youth. If the “adult” doesn’t know, how can they teach the child? It has stayed in this cycle in our communities. I would like to help break the chaotic cycle that has plagued our communities for far too long. I feel, with a strategic partnership with other like-minded individuals and organizations, that we can make a huge difference in the lives of our youth as well as their parents. I also feel that making a push to expose them to experiences that are not prevalent in their environment can help change their perspectives. I believe that, just because you are predisposed to become a “statistic” of your environment, you don’t have to become one. This belief leads me to think that if you can indeed provide positive environments, you can effect positive change.
I tell this story to not just be about my story but to give a summary of the path of the man that stands today. Further, its goal is to pay homage to the great men and women that have shaped who I am. It speaks to the importance of guidance in our lives, both young and old alike.
The lessons learned from them significantly contributes to the foundation upon which this organization is built. And my hope is that I am able to bring them to life through a willingness to serve others just as well as those that have aided me.
Last but not least I would like to thank the family, friends, and members of the YALP family that have contributed and continue to give life to this awesome organization. With their continued support, we will make a difference in this world.