As many of you know, the premiere of Black in America 2 aired Wednesday night on CNN, with a continuation last night with just as many compelling stories as were aired the first night. As one whose segment, Journey for Change, was part of the premiere episode, I could not have been happier. I felt that Soledad O’Brien and her producer Michelle Rozsa did a beautiful job capturing the highlights of the Journey for Change: Empowering Youth Through Global Service program. But of course, with any television show, you cannot tell the full story of a year of service in just 40 minutes. CNN, as excellent documentary producers, had to focus on 3 children to delve deep into their back stories so that the viewers could understand the transformation they went through. But because the cameras stopped rolling 6 months ago, you did not have a chance to see many great achievements and challenges that the trio went through. And because of these choices, the viewers didn’t have the pleasure of really meeting the other 27 phenomenal Journey for Change Ambassadors. As a mother figure to these children, whom I love so very much, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that every other child is just as special, has moved me just as much, and is just as incredible as the three ambassadors who you were able to meet in the documentary – Jeremy, Jonathan, and Latoya.
Just to tell you a bit about some of our phenomenal kids, we have 2 young men, Albert and Donovan who attend a magnet school in Brooklyn and are doing incredibly well in school. Both are blessed with parents who expect the very best of them and receive it. We have two beautiful girls, Queen and Mariah, who took it upon themselves to start the Ambassador fundraising initiatives by holding a bake sale within one week of our return from South Africa to raise funds for an orphan they met there. And then there is Laura, my sweet Laura, who spent years in a homeless shelter, yet received all A’s for the entire time and is still a member of her honor roll, now that she and her family are in permanent housing. Let me talk about Joseph, my sweetie, who has had more strife in his life than one young child his age should. And even though things are still not perfect in his family, when he is able to make our Journey For Change activities, he does so with one of the most positive attitudes I have ever seen. In fact, Joseph was indispensible in New Orleans when we were there to rebuild houses. Then there’s Imaan who was one of the first children to realize her blessings in the U.S. during our trip to South Africa. She quickly understood though her life is not perfect, she certainly had more than others and took that to heart. Keyon and Joshua are my men. Responsible, polite, and with their eyes clearly on the prize of going to college. My precocious Jordan plays the drums just as well as Jonathan and his free spirit, bright smile, and contagious personality makes everyone feel better when he’s around. Antonio, a boy who loves baseball as much as Jonathan and Jeremy love basketball, has a heart of gold and had an incredible ability to silently communicate with any child he met in South Africa. My Jasmine has indeed had it difficult in her young life. Yet through this program, and after she let down her walls, I have had the privilege of mentoring her and speaking with her honestly and truthfully about what we can do together to make her life better. And then there’s sassy Sadara, a young girl who is very, very charming but has realized through this program that you cannot succeed on charm alone. She has stepped up and become a truly great Ambassador, making me proud to take her to a black-tie fundraiser. Then there’s my boy, Shaquille, someone who used to sit at the dinner table with a hoodie on, slumped down on his chair and keep his eyes downcast. His actions have never been out of disrespect, more out of being introverted. But now, all I have to do is look at him in the eye and he sits up, brings his head up, and smiles with respect. And then there’s the brother and sister pair of Sayris and Steven – Sayris the fashionable, feisty, yet loving and hardworking young lady who you must push to be the very best she can be. Her older brother Steven has got to be one of the funniest people who I have ever met other than Chris Rock. He has constant jokes, amazing impersonations and he keeps us cracking up, all the while working extraordinarily hard during all our activities. My little Sydney, one of the youngest, yet one of the brightest and most beautiful writers we have. Her blogs are insightful, informational, and the words leap off the page as you read them. Shawn is one of our oldest ambassadors, and in that vein, a natural born leader. We can always count on Shawn to make sure the job gets done correctly and on time. Vandesha, shy, quiet, and the kind of girl that you might not know was in the room. But what I have found out, is that when she decides to speak or step up, it’s always to say something important and to show that she is remarkably bright, inquisitive and intuitive. Her sister, Tasheema is the jokester. Bubbly, full of personality, fun-loving, and through this program has learned when it’s appropriate to turn it on, but when it’s mandatory to turn it off. Wayne came into the program with a phone hooked on his ear and a Sidekick in his hands. I’m thrilled to say he now knows when you can use these items and when he should leave them at home. I was blessed to take Wayne to a black-tie fundraiser and watch him blossom among educators, corporate individuals, and other professional while wearing his first suit that we provided for him. Yolaine is our oldest ambassador. She is a young lady who has turned 18 and graduated from high school. I chose Yolaine because during our interview, I thought I was looking at myself at the same age. What I quickly realized is that we were not alike in all ways, because at 17, she was raising her younger siblings since her mother had passed away. She does this without complaint and with pure joy, and I am happy to say that she is pursuing her dreams in September. Zuliana has it all. She’s bright, beautiful, funny, sweet, positive, and full of energy. We call her Zuli and she’s just an all around great girl. Then there’s my Benjamin, our youngest participant who was chosen at the age of 11 to go on this mission. He bowled me over with his exuberance, smile, and an ability to explain why he should be chosen that was articulated well beyond his physical years. He is my kind of kid – a kid who loves to play, but knows when to stop and get to work. Then there’s Dasia, a quiet, sweet child who we have had to pull out of her shell to truly see her blossom. And blossom she has through our many activities. Dasia also acts as the needed calming influence among our group of very different personalities. Jenee is simply special. Why is Jenee special? Because she’s smart, personable, hardworking, and is simply a joy to be around. Malik is the type of boy who is completely comfortable in his own skin. At the young age of 13 he has his eye on the prize and has a wonderful combination of compassion, curiosity, and is also very comical. My favorite line that I’ve ever heard him say was when he was holding an orphan and looked up and said “Yeah, I’m holdin a baby!”
Now, as those of you who saw the documentary, Jeremy, Jonathan, and Latoya are awfully special too. Personally, I couldn’t have picked only 3 kids to follow, and I’m glad I didn’t have to since CNN did that for me. But let me update you on the three of them, since CNN stopped following the kids 6 months ago. Jonathan, the boy who loves basketball more than anything else has successfully liftied up his grades. I could not be happier to report that he has a 73 average (the highest he has ever had) and won an achievement award, a service award and a full scholarship to Christ of King High School. Jeremy is still struggling with his grades, but has been willing to have deep and in-depth conversations about what is necessary for him to change this very crucial situation. But the boy who I picked because of his great smile, great questions, and great energy, and who did not want to go on the journey, proved to be the boy I knew he could be. He has a nearly 100% retention rate at all of our global ambassador activities, is never late, and is always engaged. As a matter of a fact, if my kids are shy or quiet in a certain situation, I can just give Jeremy a look and he will raise his hand and ask one of the smartest questions of anyone in the room. And Latyoa is truly the girl you saw on screen. But what you didn’t see, and I’m glad that you didn’t, is just how many challenges she has had to overcome in her very young life. But she’s the kind of girl that has taken full advantage of the opportunities that have been presented to her and truly thrives in a mentoring situation. She is also very lucky to have a mother who wants better for her child than the life that she has lived and is very engaged in the program herself.
The only other thing that I would add is that most of our children do not live in two parent families, though a few of them are blessed to do so. We all know that this isn’t the best ideal for any child. However, what many of our kids do have are invested grandparents, aunts, uncles, older brothers and sisters, and godparents. I cannot stress enough that if a parent is unable to meet their obligations to their child, we have to pay honor and homage to the collective village of family members who stand in their place. This is not to be disrespected, this is to be nothing but admired and honored. And then for the few of our kids who do not have any responsible adult in their lives, guess what – that’s where the members of the Salvation Army Community Center come into place. The staff at the Center go above and beyond for every child, not just the Journey for Change kids. They pick them up and drive them home, take them to the doctor and to events. And that’s also where the staff of The Angelrock Project come in and where I come in myself. These are my kids, these are your kids, and these are the world’s kids. If you know of a child in your community who needs a space filled in their life, please, please consider rising to the challenge and doing it yourself or taking the time to find a safe place where there are people who do this type of thing all the time like a church, community center or social services agency. Remember, it really really does take a village.
To learn more about my kids and to see pictures, please click here.
Peace and blessings,