As many of you know, three years ago I decided to "try out" the work of educating inner city middle school students. With little more than idealism and a never-ending supply of corny jokes, I entered this new world with my eyes wide open.
Since that time, I've met a few hundred young people, each of them different in their own way. I'd like to take a minute to tell you about one of them. His given name is Ibrahim Wanu, but from now on he'll be referred to by his affectionate alias, Spazz.
Spazz was born in Sierre Leone in the midst of that country's civil war. While his family left for the United States shortly after he was born, he speaks of his country often and hopes to return their someday. He also takes great pride in his Islamic heritage, though he is accutely aware of how many in this country have come to view Muslims in light of the September 11th attacks. As you will see, he has a worldliness that is quite rare in a fifteen-year old.
Let me not give you the impression that he is a polished diplomat - his nickname is Spazz after all. A typical afternoon at Citizen Schools for Spazz would begin with him barging through my classroom door, announcing himself with either a shriek, a burst of laughter, or a fall to the floor if you were especially lucky. He would then proceed to find any number of reasons not to do his homework. I started to wonder if I was making a difference.
As the year went on, our students began preparing their articles for Bridging Magazine, a high-profile publication where students' work from throughout the year is displayed in full color. While most of my students recounted stories about a favorite teacher or their love of basketball, Spazz was concerned with more serious matters. He chose to focus on the portrayal of Muslims in a post 9/11 world. He read final product, Terrorists are Made not Born, at our citywide launch party in front of several hundred people. His mom could not have been more proud.
That's not the end of Spazz's story. I speak to him every few weeks about life in high school. On a recent call when he was sounding a bit down and out, I asked what was going on and he commented that "I've never had to do this much work before." Music to my ears. About a month ago, he called to interview me for a story he was doing on "Modern Day Heros." He said that the people that work at Citizen Schools were his heroes because "we don't do it for the money." I can't really put into words how it feels to hear that, but it reminds me that there are hundreds of other Spazz's out there that need a program like ours.
Citizen Schools does both a rigorous and magical job opening up pathways for students whose view of their future is limited by what they know of the world and the educational opportunities they have.
In these economic times, raising the funds we need to do what we do is even harder than usual. I am deeply committed to raising these funds because I care about the students I worked with, the 4,000 students we are serving across the country, and the many more we hope to serve in the years ahead.
This campaign is about spreading the message about the power of what we do at Citizen Schools. If you would consider contributing, even a small amount, I would be honored. So would Spazz. Any gift ($5, $10, $25) will make a difference.
Even if you are unable to give, thank you for reading through to the end and considering my request.