Thursday, March 18, 2010

This is What Success Looks Like

Forget the bad news for a minute. Forget the skyrocketing murder rate, the homelessness, problems in Philadelphia schools.

And picture this: a story of a young woman’s success, overcoming all odds to achieve.

This is the story of Antionette.

Flashback to 1999, when I joined Philadelphia Futures as a mentor and was paired up with Antionette.

Picture us meeting for the first time at her rough North Philly school. Me, a young professional from the Main Line, walking through the school’s metal detectors, past armed security guards, a bit nervous and doubtful that I would even have enough time to commit to mentoring.

And then there was Antionette, a lovely ninth grader from Jamaica, who took my hand, introduced me to her teachers and friends and convinced me in about 3 minutes that yes, indeed, I would MAKE enough time to devote to mentoring this young girl.

Picture this: our first outing together. Choosing the perfect frame for her honor roll award. The same award that classmates teased her about. Imagine Antionette reading Shakespeare aloud in class, while students snickered at her accent.

Envision all of the new experiences we shared together: sampling foreign foods (me, fried plantains; her, fried dumplings), visiting museums, going to concerts, shopping for a prom dress, meeting each other's families.

Picture Antionette’s mother who believed in her enough to come to every school meeting and mentorship function, who would tell me each time, in her beautiful Jamaican accent, “Stay-a-ce, every ‘ting is al –right.”

Imagine the obstacles that Antionette faced: no school books, burnt-out teachers, overcrowded classrooms.

Envision the environment: friends dropping out of school, getting pregnant, watching dreams fade away. Don’t forget the violence around every corner, fear in the neighborhood, tearful goodbyes to friends.

Imagine Antionette's perserverence: holding down after-school jobs while balancing homework, tutoring, and sometimes cooking for her family. Picture the group of educators and friends surrounding her, insisting on her achievement.

Don't think it was always easy. When life was a struggle for me, when I broke up with my boyfriend, switched careers, wanted to drop out of law school after the first week, it was Antionette who was my anchor. The thought of her persistence made me want more, dream bigger, and do better in my own life.

Together, we navigated through each semester of high school and then on to SATS, college applications, and essays.

Imagine Antionette going to Penn State on a full scholarship, living in the dorms, far from the gunfire on the streets of Philadelphia. Picture her in biology class, statistics, dreaming of a career in medicine or maybe social work or education.

Flash to May 19, 2007. Picture thousands of people in Happy Valley throwing caps in the air as those who love them cheer. Picture Antionette walking across the stage to accept her diploma, the first in her family to receive such an honor, to win such well-deserved distinction. See her standing tall, proudly, in her new suit, destined for greatness, and see me, her mentor, advocate, cheerleader, life-long friend, shedding tears of pride and smiling from ear to ear, knowing that she has made me a better person and, quite possibly, I have done the same for her.

Imagine Antionette’s story is just beginning and think of all of the possibilities in her next chapter.

Believe, out of devastation and despair in our city, the light of hope still shines on.

1 comment:

  1. Thanx Stacy...I'm so grateful to have you as apart of my life:-)