February 2016, Volume 20, Number 1

Features

Changemaker Corps Ready to Flip the Numbers

The odds are against youth who have aged out of foster care once they turn 18. Statistics show that less than 50 percent of these youth will graduate from high school. A shocking 40 percent will be homeless within 18 months of leaving the system and 25 percent will be incarcerated within two years. Currently, less than 3 percent eventually graduate from college.

To turn these sobering statistics around, MDC, in partnership with Educate Tomorrow, launched its Service Year Changemaker Corps Peer Mentoring program this fall, and so far the outlook is promising, as the stories that follow will attest.

In recognition of the unique excellence of this initiative, the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute, the National Conference on Citizenship, the Corporation for National and Community Service and the Lumina Foundation named MDC a winner of the Service Year + Higher Education Innovation Challenge, along with Drake University and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

Mentee Gives Children Voice She Didn’t Have

A striking example of the early success of MDC’s Changemaker Corps is MDC Wolfson Campus student Bria Davis, 20, who is being mentored by Kendrika King.

Davis was in foster care from age 11 until she was 18, when she aged out of the system.

“Then it was out to the real world,” said Davis, who is studying sociology and set to graduate from Miami Dade College in the fall of 2016. She wants to eventually attend Howard University and become a human rights lawyer.

“My dream is to own my own law firm and have a nonprofit organization helping disadvantaged youth of all kinds who are having a hard time with their lives,” she said. “Basically, I want to help others.”

Davis seems well on her way.

She is working as a support specialist for Voices for Children, a national nonprofit that advocates for the well-being of kids and addresses issues such as juvenile justice and early childhood education.

Davis said King assisted with her financial aid applications and has also helped keep her motivated about school.

“She does a lot,” Davis said of King’s mentoring. “She’s the person I call when I feel like I want to give up, and we’ll talk for two hours.”

Leader’s Life Serves as Example to Others

Everyone going through a tough transition needs a great coach who knows from personal experience how to make it through life. Changemaker Mentor Kendrika King is the perfect example of perseverance for Bria Davis.

King already has tackled great obstacles. Abandoned by her father at birth and later neglected by her mother, she found herself homeless at age 16. But she remained upbeat through all the challenges. Now 21, she is focusing her studies on social work and is set to graduate from Miami Dade College in May. She then plans to move to Washington D.C., establish residency for a year and then begin attending Howard University.

Her ultimate goal is to graduate from law school. She has a ways to go, but she’s already come quite a distance from her troubling upbringing. King said her mother chose her boyfriend over her, kicking the teenager out of the house.

“I didn’t feel worthy of school,” King said of her past. “My mom used to verbally abuse me and say I wouldn’t amount to anything. I thought: ‘If my own mother didn’t want me, how can anyone else accept me?’ I got kicked out of high school because I wasn’t motivated.”

King said one of MDC’s community partners, Educate Tomorrow, helped her get her GED so she could attend college.

Although she’s still homeless, staying periodically with friends, family members and even strangers, Educate Tomorrow has helped King get part-time jobs so she can continue her studies at MDC.

Now a member of MDC’s Changemaker Corps, King is inspiring not only Davis but nearly a dozen other mentees she has taken under her wings, all of them with similar daunting backgrounds they are working to overcome.

“As a homeless youth with no family support, I never thought I’d be in college,” King said. “The challenges I have faced have inspired me to give back to my peers. Now my dream after college is to start my own nonprofit organization so I can continue to help others.”

Inner City Youth Breaks Cycle of Violence

Growing up in Miami’s inner city, Junior Joseph never even considered going to college.

“I thought I would get caught up in the murder-murder, bang-bang lifestyle,” the 22-year-old said.

He avoided that dead-end street thanks to a couple of monumental events in his life.

The first was an introduction to some of the people at Miami Dade College who have helped him, including Wendy Joseph, an Educate Tomorrow coordinator at MDC’s North Campus office of Single Stop. Single Stop helps MDC students and their families access a wide variety of government benefits and services, including free tax preparation, free legal advice and free financial coaching.

“MDC helped me a lot,” said Joseph, who plans to graduate by 2017. “There are people here who look like me that I can relate to – it makes me want to come to college. It’s given me a better outlook on life. There are no excuses now.”

One of those people who helped Joseph was Shanta Lewis, who is his Changemaker mentor.

“She was dedicated to helping me get back in my class,” Joseph said. “She told me, ‘Don’t drop the class. Stay in it, fight through it.’”

Joseph, who is studying both nursing and funeral services, said the other life-changing event happened in November when his goddaughter Kai was born.

This was highly emotional for Joseph since he never got to know his own father, who was gunned down while selling drugs in Haiti. Joseph’s mother, Bertha, a native of the Bahamas, died of lung cancer when he was 14.

After that, Joseph – the youngest of four children – was in foster care.

“Before my goddaughter was born, I didn’t care about life,” said Joseph, who is also interested in a career in music. “But now I’ve calmed down. I want to make something positive.”

Mentor Refuses to Let Her Charges Ever Lose Hope

If there were a mentor destined to become a guiding light for Junior Joseph, that perfect mentor would be Shanta Lewis.

“I joined the Changemaker Corps because I believe that the efforts of leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and others are needed just as much now as they were then,” said Lewis, who now has the opportunity to share her knowledge of those outstanding male role models with Joseph.

A student herself at MDC’s North Campus, Lewis has a vision for her life – establishing an agency to help people with disabilities while working to improve race relations. She has already begun changing the world through her role as a Changemaker mentor.

“Reach one, teach one,” she said. “I like the fact that the Service Year Changemaker program prepares young adults to be savvy about our democracy. It teaches us to be civically engaged in community events but to think globally as well. The opportunities are limitless.”

Lewis, a Miami native, was adopted into a caring family when she was just a few weeks old. But despite her solid upbringing, she always felt that she was “different” from others who grew up with their biological parents.

“If I could say one thing to those with similar backgrounds or anyone wondering how they’re going to make a difference it’s that the worst thing you can do is give up,” Lewis said. “Do not lose hope. Do not stop.”

Lewis hasn’t stopped. She has already earned an MDC associate degree with a pathway in health administration. Enriched by the experience, she has remained at Miami Dade College as she works toward a Bachelor of Science in Supervision and Management.

But even as she focuses personally on completing her education, she also has trained her keen eyes outward on society, and some of what’s going on – particularly the spate of police shootings of unarmed young black men – has been extremely troubling to her.  

“Being a member of the Changemaker Corps was a calling sent by God because I’m tired of the way things are in the world,” Lewis said. “This Changemaker program is a network we’ve needed for a long time. It’s a place where we can begin to put our imprint on the world, and it’s an honor for me to be a part of this.”

— WV


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