How many of you were told by your parents that you could be anything you wanted to be? If you wanted to be a doctor, lawyer, basketball player, football player, astronaut, or all of the above, did you have that person who pushed you to dream big? Did you truly believe you could do it? If you have children, do you tell them the same story? Do you encourage and nurture those dreams? Do you know that most people don’t have that or believe that? Do you realize many of the 116,000+ students in Shelby County Schools do not have that? They don’t have that person in their lives that tell them they can do this. Let me break down some statistics about our students in Shelby County Schools.
46.9% of them live in poverty (SUAPP, 2015)
64.5% are in single parent households (Data, 2016)
25% will drop out (Schools, 2016)
Around 10,000 will end up in the criminal justice system (Tennessee, Annual Juvenile Statistics report, 2014)
I was at a presentation on Tuesday and I overheard a teacher talking to another individual. When people discuss their classrooms I always feel compelled to listen as an educator. What he had to say broke my heart. He was wondering how to be an effective teacher when many of his students “felt they had no future and they were simply waiting to die.” Digest that for a minute. Children in this community feel that they have no future and they are just waiting for their time to be up. Waiting for God to call their number. Imagine if your child or you as a teenager felt that way? What would you do to stop it? As a parent, I would stop at nothing to make my child see there IS future.
But what happens to the child born to the 12-year-old? What happens to the child who is selling dope to make sure his siblings have food on the table because mom is a crack head? In 2015, 117 were selling drugs. The teacher then proceeded to tell me just a few stories about some of the kids in his class. He said that over half of them had seen someone die. Not in a hospital tragically dying of cancer or something like that, but in front of them dying of violence, possibly from another teen. In 2015, 27 murders in this city were committed by juveniles (Tennessee, Annual Juvenile Statistics report, 2014). I was floored. We have very different problems in the environment I teach in.
Imagine yourself in this environment and imagine how you would feel? Would you value your education? Would you join a gang for some form of structure in your life? If you never walked in their shoes, you cannot realistically answer that question, I am not judging because neither can I.
How do we reach kids living like this if we never experienced it? How can we tell them to make proper choices when we don’t give them any positive ones to make? How have we ignored 46% of children living in poverty in our own city? In the RICHEST country on the planet…..How?
I know someone who is working hard to give them choices and most importantly, Hope. He is out there spending his own money trying to help give these kids a reason to hope and a reason to work and invest in themselves. He was one of them. He loves the community he called home. He wants to revitalize the youth of this city and influence them with positive choices, in their music, extra-curricular activities, etc. He is not wealthy; he is not a recording star, although he could have been had he been willing to glorify a negative lifestyle. He knew that these kids would want to emulate that and he did not want to give them a negative image to emulate. As you can imagine, this is not popular by today’s media and movers and shakers.
I have gotten to know Dulaa A.K.A. Anthony to all of you who listen to my show. He is the owner of Reality Records and he has a heart of gold. If you have ever spoken to me about government, you know my passion for it. I live and breathe government and making a difference for “We the People.” I want to make a difference for the people of Memphis and it dictates almost my every move. I am constantly asking what I can do to help Memphis. He is that way about the kids of Memphis.
He has BEEN in the schools, he has worked with them, he has mentored them, he has changed a few lives. His passion resonates through his life and it is contagious. The day he shared with me about his U Can Be program it was amazing. If I had the money I would have given him a check, then and there and he never even asked. He just wanted to share his idea. I was ready to help in every way I could BEFORE I saw the staggering statistics and heard some of the stories.
This man is further along in his mission to change Memphis than I am. I know I want to help; I don’t know how. He has a plan, he has it on paper, and partially in place. He has the talent, the studio, and most importantly the heart. What he doesn’t have? Justin Timberlake’s money or phone number or the winning Powerball Ticket or the Robinson's number (Ha Ha). Sorry I didn’t win Anthony, I bought some for the first time ever just hoping. If any of you want to call the station with those numbers feel free.
Anthony and his wife reached in to their own pocketbooks for the sake of the children of Memphis. They cannot sustain that. He has a program that truly could help. It incorporates education and mentoring to change these kids. They could graduate with contacts and skills to do something here in Memphis. We could change Memphis from the inside out. Instead of seeing them commit mob violence or any of the 14,742 referrals that filtered through the system in 2014, we could see them finding their talents and developing them and having a reason NOT to commit crimes.
Not everyone who commits a crime is bad. It is fact. Sometimes people do desperate things for desperate reasons. It happens every day, in every community, in every social class. Here is the reality for anyone trying to help children in these poverty, gang stricken areas, if you have never been there, they will not listen. They won’t buy what you are selling. I would not expect them to. It is why I do not teach there. How can I expect them to listen to me when I have NO CLUE what it is like to walk in their shoes?
I am a middle class white woman, while born in South Central LA, my parents moved me here for a better life when I was young and while they were not wealthy, we were not poor. I was poor when my husband and I first got married, but not poor like these kids’ experience. I grew up with both of my parents, I had three meals a day, I lived in a neighborhood I could walk around the block and stay out until nightfall with zero fear. I was told in school; my future was mine to mold.
I cannot begin to be taken seriously in trying to write a curriculum or develop a program for them. If I were them I wouldn’t take me seriously even though my heart is in the right place. Let’s be real. It’s like Shea Flinn telling me about how to live frugally. He has no clue what it’s like to live pay check to paycheck. However, I can support someone like Dulaa, who has walked in their shoes, he has made the journeys that have molded him into the man today that wants to help these kids. Guess what? His background brings credibility to them. When he walks in, he has their attention. He opens his mouth and they want to hear what he has to say. Let’s help him say it.
Let’s stop complaining about what the kids are doing and let’s help someone who is dying to get in the trenches to help these kids. He is the real deal and he LOVES this city so much he is willing to put it all out there to help, which is more than I can say for city council.
For the record, I invited Councilman Ford and Boyd to Dulaa’s presentation. I sent the information to Council members Fullilove and Brown. To date, Janis Fullilove is the only one who has responded. I thought since I would be down in District 7 across from the Union Mission, I would invite Councilman Ford to see a program that could TRULY help district 6 and I was in Boyd’s district. But, I guess my email got lost somewhere in cyberspace. Shows the “all talk” attitude of our leaders. So let’s take it upon ourselves to fix this. It will take time because we didn’t get here overnight. But let’s put down our differences and work towards a new day in Memphis, one of hope and unity.
Data, C. (2016). Top 101 cities with single parent households. Retrieved from city-data: http://www.city-data.com/top2/h7.html
Schools, S. C. (2016). Shelby County Schools About Us. Retrieved from Shelby County Schools: http://www.scsk12.org/uf/webadmin/foundation/about/
SUAPP, U. o. (2015). Memphis Poverty Fact Sheet. Retrieved from SUAPP: http://www.memphis.edu/socialwork/pdfs/20152povertyfactsheetwebversion.pdf
Tennessee, S. o. (2014). Annual Juvenile Statistics report. Retrieved from Tennessee Courts: http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/file/docs/2014_annual_juvenile_court_statistical_report.pdf
Tennessee, S. o. (2016, January 16). Tennessee Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. Retrieved from TN Courts: http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/docs/shelby_17.pdf