"Impact 8,165 miles away"

(The following is an excerpt from the keynote speech which I presented at GoForeFront's 2nd Annual Gala to fundraise $5,500 towards building a school in Kolluru, India. These funds will not only support the construction of the building and funding teachers, but will expand the transformative impact of education.  

 

goforefront's commitment towards education

Good evening everyone and welcome to Forefront's 2nd annual gala! Before I begin, I'd like to thank GoForeFront's founder, Matthew Oh, for putting this wonderful event together and also leading the GoForeFront team forward to such great accomplishments! Matthew and I first met when he came to The Bronx to speak at our annual Career Day. It was there that we both discovered our similar passions to inspire countless inner-city children about the limitless career opportunities available to them; inspiring them to know that anything is possible and that any one person can change our world. 

the fabric of our connection

Tonight I will share stories about the transformative power of education. A series of stories which won't be found in the movie theaters, television screens, social media, or the latest Netflix series (for those "House of Cards" or "Orange is the New Black" fans). It won't be found in a popular hashtag, rooting for a cause behind the screen; it will be found in a  collection of stories. Stories which bind us together as human beings. Stories which are often unspoken but ride the pulsing beats of our heart.  Stories which burrow down to the depth of who we truly are and how we connect with one another, binding us together even with someone we have yet to meet 8,165 miles away.



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"The Bronx is home to me..."

In an inner-city community just a few miles away from here is the borough of The Bronx. The Bronx is arguably the home of hip-hop, vibrant New York City culture, and where passionate hard-working families call home. The Bronx for all of its raw beauty and opportunity, is sadly sometimes, faced with challenges. Challenges which elicit the reality of gun violence, the effects of poverty, and peer pressure from local gangs falsely promising to be a source of refuge for young minority boys and girls.

The Bronx is home to me.

So, I've seen first hand, the damaging effects a tough neighborhood can have on a household. Effects that made my family question the safety of their three baby boys and the need to always keep their mind focused on the opportunities of education.  My parents worked multiple jobs (nursing aide, custodian, truck driver etc.) , sometimes never getting a chance to spend quality time with each other; their priority was always focused on making sure the refrigerator had food, warm clothes on our backs, and finding ways to shield us from the reality of the tough New York City. 


"It is our duty to act beyond the classroom..."

This harsh reality of my family pushing towards education and overcoming societal barriers is not a unique story. It is a story that now, 10-15 years later, with over 650 students as I work in the same community I grew up in. Since our school, Equality Charter School, began, I've had the privilege to work a variety of roles to serve our kids. Kids that look like me, eat at the same diner, and play in the same parks. Each day, our students walk through the school doors, wearing their own hardships on their sleeves.  They are faced with overcoming peer pressure, bullying, academic challenges, and sometimes hunger. 

 

At night, I often pose this question to myself, "Who's responsibility is it to help them overcome an environment not always prone to help them succeed?" Is it the parents, who's working double shifts to sacrifice quality time for food on the table? Is it left up to big sisters and brothers, already trying to find their own way? 

The answer I arrived at is that it's all of us at the school. It is our duty to act beyond the classroom walls!


 
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"impacting children through the adults in their lives...Adult education programs "

After an 8 hour school day, where do our children go? They return home to their inner-city communities. At Equality, we believed that we have a shot at enhancing the value of their educational experience by impacting children through the adults in their lives. If we educated parents, neighbors, foster brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles, we could create a ripple effect that would indirectly impact each child.

I was charged with the task of designing an impactful program modeled to meet this goal; an Adult Education Program that would transform our building from a school for students by day to an adult learning center at night. These programs spanned under 2 main branches:  Workforce Development and Family Education. 

We provided free programs so that a single parent Mom could finally earn a High School Diploma after 20-30 years of leaving school too early. She earned it not only because it would unlock new doors but it would be a sense of accomplishment. She also knew her 14 year old daughter, one of our students, was watching. The same daughter who, one night, stopped by the High School Diploma classroom, timidly knocked on the door before classes began and said "Are your the High School Diploma Teacher?". The class turned around and faced the door. The Teacher responded "Yes, I am. " The daughter, responded "Well then can you help my mom with some of the equations because each night she asks me for help but is too shy to speak up in class!"

 

But across the world, 8,165 miles away, we see similar challenges in villages such as Thallur, India. Many of us may or may not have heard of Thallur; a distant village with a different way of governance, beliefs, and , perhaps, way of seeing the world we share. A village not so distant, though, from wanting a better quality of life, fair rights, and access to quality education.  GoForefront saw this village and noticed that their children, like our own, liked to get their hands dirty. However, what may seem like innocent childhood fun, created issues in hygiene that was affecting their community.  Their small hands could potentially spread germs as they enjoyed their dinner, played games, and gave each other friendly highshakes. 

GoForefront found a practical but meaningful solution; simply place toys in bars of soap. GENIUS! This created an incentive for kids to wash their hands as they eagerly anticipated earning their toy prize. Young female villagers such as Vyshanavy, Sava, and Nagavenni became soap ambassadors, serving as community leaders who lead the success of this initiative. 

This was more than toys in a soap bar, it was a community coming together to educate themselves about the transference of disease through germs and taking action to solve the problem. 

GoForefront has provided the platform for communities to access better quality of life through their four-phase approach:

  • Sanitary Environments
  • Quality Education
  • Medical Care
  • Social Equality

The approach is comprehensive, thoughtful, and directly meeting the needs of these distant communities. This approach created the reality that this very morning, 10,000 villagers woke up and had access to clean water. Villagers who are distant neighbors but whom we have yet to meet. 

 

Tonight, with GoForeFront, we help provide a set of keys that will open new doors in India.  Keys that will breakdown societal limitations and help villagers overcome their own hardships, just like the ones we overcome in our own communities. Education is the set of keys. Transformational keys that has also transformed over 500 Bronx, New York, community members with Equality's Adult Education programs.   Keys that we now send 8,165 miles away.

 

I ask that you join GoForeFront as they empower change within another community. As once famously said, 


Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events...It is from numberless, diverse acts of courage, and belief that human human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope and those build a current that can can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
— Robert F. Kennedy

 

Tonight,

as neighbors,

as humans who share this planet,

may we be able to make our own ripples

which will reach

8,165 miles way.

Thank you.

 

For more information about GoForeFront, visit them by clicking here.