A letter from Hubermann Ermeus, Citizen Schools ’10 alum
When I came to the U.S. from Haiti in 1995, I only spoke my native language, Creole, and I had one friend at school: my brother. I struggled because I had to learn how to read, write, and speak a new language. I enjoyed math and typically got a C+ or B-, but reading and writing was frustrating and always got me upset. I basically didn’t care about those subjects, and over time, all I cared about was gym and basketball. Those were the skills I wanted to build.
After bouncing around from teacher to teacher in the eighth grade, I eventually wound up in Ms. McZorn’s class, who was one of the Citizen Schools teachers. I didn’t like it at all! Ms. McZorn seemed mean and I didn’t want to listen to what she had to say, nor did I do my homework. It was so frustrating that I would just go down to the school gym to play basketball and not come to class. I guess that fun didn’t last too long, because Mr. Wilkinson, the Campus Director, would always catch me and my friends in the gym and would bring us back to our classes. It didn’t change how I felt about school, because in class Ms. McZorn wouldn’t let me do what I wanted to do!
My frustration soon turned into shock. Ms. McZorn would call my family concerned about my behavior and lack of attendance. I told Ms. McZorn that I was bored in class and would rather play basketball. So Ms. McZorn started to do things in our class that showed me she cared. After noticing that I could finish my homework before others in the class, Ms. McZorn made me the official class math tutor. I was responsible for asking my classmates if they needed help. Sometimes, I was tempted to take the quick route of just doing it for them.
Ms. McZorn would always say, “you are showing them how to do it, not doing it for them”! Her expectations made me feel important because my class counted on me to help them out. Doing that kind of work gave us the chance to have free time. Since I was completing my homework on time, helping others with homework, and completing all of the Citizen Schools programs like C3 and academic league, we were rewarded with gym time and computer work. It made basketball even more fun! Ms. McZorn would come to our school basketball games and support me and my other classmates who were part of Citizen Schools. It made me realize that Ms. McZorn isn’t mean; she was strict, but the kind of strict that showed she cared about me and my class.
One of the most memorable parts of Citizen Schools in the eighth grade was the Invest Like a Millionaire apprenticeship during my last semester. Every Tuesday we left school to go to the Prudential Financial Office and meet with real financial advisors, lawyers, and consultants. We held our classes in a real meeting room where professionals at Prudential actually did business. I learned about being a Financial Advisor and the difference between short-term and long-term financial goals, the difference between need and want, and the consequences of debt. The experience made us feel like professionals – they even made us business cards with the title “Ivy Hill Jr. Financial Advisors”. By the end, I could see myself working at Prudential in the future, so I asked one of the volunteers for his business card.
The eighth grade finished with my class respecting me and seeing me differently; someone who was good in math and can help them if they needed it. It made me proud that my classmates and Ms. McZorn saw me as more than a great basketball player. Ms. McZorn and Invest Like a Millionaire gave me a start on getting ready for college, and the overall experience gave me confidence and knowledge of what I can do for my career. I chose Big Picture Academy as my high school because they put me on a track for college and they do twice-a-week internships, similar to Citizen Schools apprenticeships. I’m already starting to do research on what colleges I want to go to, what types of scholarships I can apply for, and which loans I need to plan for.
Today, I still love basketball, but I know I have a strong plan for my career. I haven’t reached my goals yet, but I’m well on my way. I have to keep doing what I need to do – so I can do what I want to do. I want to build respect, grow as an adult, and have a career that me and my family can be proud of.
Hubermann is why I do this job. Like hundreds of other students in Newark, he just needed a shot and someone to believe in him.
That’s why hundreds of business and community leaders are donating their time and money in our schools. That’s why I’m teaching an apprenticeship that will train kids to become NBA General Managers. We’ll open their minds beyond “I want to be in the NBA” and into the mindset of “I know how the NBA works, and I know that I can be a General Manager when I’m an adult”. That’s what life transformation looks like.
And that’s why we, together, should step up for the hundreds of kids still looking for their shot and role model. Citizen Schools works – it just needs fuel from people like us. Let’s open the door so that stories like Hubermann’s aren’t anomalies, but the norm.