Fostering Hope

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2011 at 9:58 am

“The kids have to know that you care before they care what you know”
—President Barack Obama quoting Memphis Booker T. Washington’s Principal Alisha Kiner

Booker T. Washington Warriors. A staple in Memphis. Most notably, I know BTW for producing Claudia Barr, Memphis journalist, who happily wears her school pride everywhere she goes. As the winner of the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, BTW’s 2011 graduating class (and Memphis) welcomed President Obama as its commencement speaker. Commercial Appeal’s Wendi C. Thomas noted, “a small school with its struggles — principal Alisha Kiner said alumni outfitted some grads who couldn’t afford presentable attire — wins a national contest and the first black president speaks at the city’s first black high school to an all-black graduating class.”

In the heart of South Memphis, students at BTW are faced with significant societal challenges, and these obstacles are not checked at the doors of the school’s halls. On April 12, Cleaborn Homes were demolished and this was where many of BTW’s students called home. Crime and poverty also are familiar to the area, and it is not hard to see the challenges to learning. It is not about “these people in the neighborhoods don’t want to learn or care about school.” It is not about “leaving these people to fend for themselves.” It is about how do you survive and thrive at the same time. And President Obama’s speech focused on exactly that. The culture of care, as the President called it, in addition to grit and determination, has resulted in BTW’s graduation rate increasing from 55 percent to 82 percent. This culture of care is what has motivated students to look to the halls of BTW for guidance and a future that at one time may not have included college or trade school. This culture of care is what is needed to save a child, and a generation. The students of BTW have inspired me.

And the President was correct in acknowledging that the hard road does not stop here.

These students have succeeded in the classroom and in their lives outside of BTW. It was and will always be a team effort. These students and their families persevered because of cooperative efforts, largely from individuals they know and many they may not. Success is not about the one who was able to get out and do well for him/herself; success is about those who were able to get out, learn and grow, only to return to sow the seeds for the next generations. To the students of BTW and for those who face similar circumstances–challenges vary, obstacles rest along the course, but continue to hold on to faith, belief/confidence in self, and the wherewithal and willingness to ask for help along the way.


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