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Helping Our Poor Youth Change the Face of the World

April 25, 2013

Without Pace University’s Upward Bound Program, I wouldn’t be here. The program literally saved my life. Before I joined the program in the summer between the ninth and tenth grade, I didn’t know college existed. I thought high school was the end of it all. My parents never finished high school. I didn’t know anyone who went to college. No one spoke to me about it. Upward Bound helped me strengthen my academics in high school and exposed me to schools like Skidmore College, which I ended up graduating from.

Unfortunately, every poor child can’t be in an Upward Bound Program or some kind of college prep program. Every year, these programs lose funding or get cut completely. Even without the cuts, every student can’t be reached. Most high school students, especially in New York City, only have access to one college advisor. One person can’t give one on one attention to the hundreds of seniors and juniors. One person can’t expose that many students to schools like Skidmore.

David Leonhardt’s New York Times article called “Better Colleges Failing to Lure Talented Poor” cites a study conducted by a Harvard professor and a Stanford professor: “Only 34 percent of high-achieving high school seniors in the bottom fourth of income distribution attended any one of the country’s 238 most selective colleges.” To make matters even worst, Third Way cited a survey called National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1979 and 1997 stating that of the poor born between 1979 and 1982, 29% got into college and 9% graduated (Page 41).

But there is hope! A study done by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities states that first generation students, who are usually poor, are more likely to graduate from private institutions than public ones. To expand on that more, the U.S. Department of Education cites that students in general are more likely to graduate from private nonprofits than other schools (Figure 45-2). This is because these schools have the resources to help students succeed.

Despite these positive numbers, families still think schools like Skidmore cost too much. My family was one of them. But this simply isn’t true. David Leonhardt published another article in the New York Times called “A Simple Way to Send Poor Kids to Top Colleges” citing a study on exposing poor students to schools like Skidmore. In it, Leonhardt states that “Selective colleges frequently cost less for low-income students than local colleges, because the selective ones have the resources to offer bigger scholarships.”

This is true for where I went. I was admitted Early Decision to Skidmore’s Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP). I was offered a package from Skidmore/HEOP that would have left me with only $8,000 in loans. Since I had outside scholarships totaling about $6,000 and became a Resident Assistant (RA) in my senior year, I graduated from Skidmore with no loans.

New York State’s HEOP is a program many poor students in the state aren’t aware of. If students aren’t from the state, many states have similar programs. These programs ensure poor students graduate. Even if schools like Skidmore don’t have a program like HEOP or a student doesn’t get into HEOP, they still have the resources to help a student attend and graduate from their school.

There are schools out there that still give great financial aid packages to high performing and hard working poor students with leadership skills. But since there is a lack of knowledge, it is up to us to expose these schools to students. Those of us who graduated from these kinds of schools have to change the conversation. I was able to do that with my mentee, Gaetan Lamy.

Before Gaetan and I put out a book called Different Families, Still Brothers, we were just a mentor/mentee pair in the iMentor program trying to figure each other out. He had a limited view of what a private college was and didn’t know what HEOP was. He had his heart set on CUNY’s Baruch College. Throughout the first year of our pair, which was his junior year, I exposed him to schools like Skidmore and HEOP. I believe every hardworking poor student should get the chance to experience going away to a private school.

When it came to applying, he applied to some of the schools I exposed him to and took other people’s suggestions. In the end, he got into Long Island University’s HEOP. He’s in good hands. But now, he’s even thinking about moving on to a better school like some of the away schools we discussed.

In that experience with Gaetan, I learned how much I could do with my knowledge of the college admissions process and schools like Skidmore. All of us from these kind of schools have this same knowledge to offer. All of us can be mentors. We can do it with a program such as iMentor or on our own.

Let’s change the conversation! Let’s change the face of government which usually consists of those from Ivy League schools and privileged backgrounds. Let’s change the faces of doctors, lawyers, pastors, business owners and teachers operating in poor neighborhoods to reflect more upon those they serve. If all of us do our part, we can change the face of the world.

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A Word on Independence

December 31, 2012

Oh how sweet!

The internet is the greatest invention ever. Who would’ve thought there would be something that connects people across the globe in the matter of seconds? When I video chatted with a friend overseas back in college, I was in awe how it was possible. When I was doing a radio show in college, I couldn’t believe that the podcast downloads and listens mostly came from overseas. It was more than the amount of people who listened locally on the FM dial. And I didn’t really do that much promotion. When I started doing mixtapes, I was amazed with the numbers I were getting. Just getting 100 listens was awesome to me.

With the internet, pretty much everything is possible. Anyone came put out music via iTunes or Amazon and not need a label behind them. How amazing is that? When I was playing with the idea of putting out a book, I was worried about not having a publisher put it out. That worry stopped me from even writing a book. When I heard Activist Kevin Powell put out his latest book on Lulu.com, I knew it was possible to get my voice out there without being at the mercy of a publisher whom might not even care about what I have to say. The only thing that worried me was putting the money together to self-publish. That worry froze me because I didn’t have it like that.

Then I met the woman of my dreams who told me about self-publishing on Amazon and Fivver.com. I told to myself, “wow, I could put out a book for next to nothing real soon.” The internet amazed me again. There was nothing stopping me now. I talked to my mentee about publishing our emails because they were so rich with content. Content people needed to read! It wasn’t right to keep it just to ourselves. I took a month to edit it, hit up a Fivver user (two, really because the first guy messed up and disappeared) to format for Kindle and then linked with an old friend to do the cover for a reasonable price.

My whole idea of the book was just to get it out there. I’m not trying to make money off it. In fact, I’m nowhere near breaking even. I mean the price is set the lowest I could put it on Amazon while still getting a good share. I had the idea of eventually putting the book out on Lulu.com, but then I came across a wonderful machine in the Central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. I tell you the internet keeps amazing me! I took some time to get everything right for a final print, including going back to my designer friend to do a back cover.

So now, I’m happy to announce that my book with my mentee Different Families, Still Brothers is now available worldwide in paperback! If you can’t find your location, you can find it here or even have the book shipped to you. Spread the word! Thank you for the support! Remember, you don’t need to be at the mercy of someone to fulfill your dreams. May God reveal Himself to, bless, bring peace to, and install righteousness in you in the New Year.

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The Article The Huff Post Rejected

November 9, 2012

My Mentee and I

A couple of weeks ago, I linked up with the brother Robert Kyle Hoggard, whom I met at the Children’s Defense Fund’s National Conference this past Summer, to interview for The Huffington Post in support of my book with my mentee called Different Families, Still Brothers. After Huff Post rejected it without a given reason, he posted it on another site he blogs for called HBCU Buzz. I think it was a great article. It is such a shame that the Huff Post didn’t publish it. It provided a unique look into poverty. Do check it out and feel free to hit up Huff Post with your disappointment in them. As a bonus to the article, I’m posting the unedited interview. In it, I talk about how poverty was address in the 1960’s, what can be done to address it today, what poverty looks like today, how I address poverty, how I overcame it, what inspired me to put out the book with my mentee and how my faith backs my willingness to help others. Check it out below!

1. What solutions do you have to cripple poverty?
Back in 2009, I published my first article on poverty on my Hip Hop blog. In it, I talked about how poverty decreased dramatically in the 1960’s and stayed the same well into the 2000’s. That had a lot to do with President Johnson’s “Great Society” programs. With these programs, he extended the life span of those in poverty and put them in a place where they suffered less. He created Medicaid which provided health care to the poor. He created Medicare which provided health care to one of our most vulnerable, our seniors. He created Job Corps and Neighborhood Youth Corps to help the youth get into the work force. He expanded Social Security benefits and the Food Stamp program. He created Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) which paid people to help the poor in various opportunity and school programs. He created Upward Bound which helped poor high school students get into college. He created the Community Action Program which helped the poor help themselves.

All of these things and many more programs he and congress initiated helped lift people out of poverty. These things provided opportunities to the poor, kept them alive, got them to help themselves and got other people to help them. More could have been done, but the Vietnam War picked up. The war killed any hope of poverty being eliminated.

Towards the end of the 1960’s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were on the verge of diminishing poverty even further. Dr. King started the Poor People’s Campaign just before he was killed in 1968. The campaign was to unite all poor people and demand more action from the government. During his 1968 Presidential run, Senator Kennedy focused on poverty in a major way. He was killed just as he was a shoe-in for the Democratic nomination. These two men along with President Johnson were getting to the root of the real problem in America, poverty. Since they were doing this, they became targets. Dr. King and Senator Kennedy paid the price of death. President Johnson didn’t get a chance at a second elected term.

To cripple poverty today, we need another “Great Society” initiative. We need another Poor People’s Campaign. We need another Presidential candidate who cares. In the article I mentioned earlier, I said, “The combined efforts of the government, non-poor people and poor people helping their own selves can cause the number of people in poverty to drop. The percentage has the potential to drop even more than it did in the sixties.” In the years since I put out that article, that thought as expanded to include people who used to be poor helping those who are poor. That can happen in a VISTA program or even joining a mentoring program. The book I’m putting out with my mentee Gaetan Lamy, Different Families, Still Brothers, showcases how it is possible to assist those in poverty on a seemly small level. It shows that people who used to be poor can be a great ally to those who are poor. But this is not limited to them. Everyone can provide the tools and education poor people need. Those who don’t know what it is like to be poor need to do research on poverty or talk to a person who used to be poor like me to be able to better assist those who are poor.

2. What is poverty? How is one classified as someone affected by poverty?

Poverty has many faces, but it knows no color. The Federal guideline isn’t a definition of poverty. It doesn’t reflect rising food prices, rising housing costs and transportation. I have a lecture called “Poverty: Bigger than the Block” where I talk about the issues poor people face. Poverty is going to bed hungry. It is cereal for dinner. If lucky, it is white rice and eggs for dinner. It is deciding between paying the light bill or buying food for the family. It is living in a hotel room with your whole family because you lost your home. It is having to work sick because you could lose your job if you don’t. It is having to take a day off from work without pay, risking losing your job, to make sure your benefits stay intact. It is filling out job application after job application at the library. It is going to job fair after job fair. It is isolating yourself because you don’t have the money to do anything. It is having failing grades in college because public school didn’t prepare you. It is using a credit card to pay for groceries and bills to be able to live another day. It is going bankrupt due to health care bills or credit card bills. I could go on and on about the many faces of poverty. It is the greatest tragedy in American history.

3. How will your dreams play into empowering person’s affected by poverty?

Since I won the Children’s Defense Fund’s Beat the Odds Scholarship in 2004, I made it my mission to help my fellow brothers and sisters. I always wanted to help people. In winning that scholarship, I was inspired, empowered and motivated to act on my emotions. My approach now is to help young people in poverty get out one by one. I do that by sharing my life story, providing words of encouragement and advice, providing education on the college admission process and applying to jobs, inspiring them to stand up against the injustices they endure and see, and telling them how faith in God sustains them. These are things I do in my own time, not as my main job where I help people get public health insurance. I do hope to have a main job where I buttress all my efforts. I’ve been applying to jobs and going to interviews for about a year. Nothing has popped up for me yet.

4. How have you overcome poverty?

If it wasn’t for President Johnson’s “Great Society” programs, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I benefited from Medicaid and Food Stamps. These programs kept me alive to be able to succeed. Pace University’s Upward Bound Program gave me the hope that I could escape my living situation. I wasn’t just dealing with going hungry and in risk of losing my home. I was dealing with parents who weren’t involved in my doings. I was also dealing with a father who was abusive. I didn’t have a constant positive role model. The Pace Upward Bound program helped me see education as my way out. I see education as the great equalizer.

5. What inspired you to write this book?

What inspired me to put out Different Families, Still Brothers with my mentee Gaetan Lamy was how many of my brothers and sisters who grew up in poverty weren’t interested in “going back” to help those who are poor now. What also inspired me was how those who do help end up doing more harm than good because they don’t know what it is like to be poor. I hope this book changes people’s mind about helping the poor in an effective way and bring hope to the youth in poverty.

6. Why did you end the book with Ephesians 4:26-29?

I’m glad you caught that. As my mentee and I were wrapping up the book, I came across these verses in my daily reading of the Bible. So this wasn’t in the original cut. My mentee and I talked a lot about our shared Christian faith in the book. We talked about how it got us to where we are and how it sustains us. I’ve become more faithful over the course of our mentoring relationship. But for me, my faith is much more than a selfish thing. It’s about being my brother’s and sister’s keeper. When I read these verses, they spoke to me because of what I’m about. We all endure the devil trying to get ahead of us in our daily lives, but we shouldn’t let him stop us. We shouldn’t let him stop us from helping others. We all have the duty to help others. We all have something to offer. These verses are at the end of the book because it is exactly the message I’m trying to get across with the book. I wanted to leave the readers with something memorable.

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Reforming Our Election Process

November 5, 2012


Earlier today, I had a great conversation with my girlfriend after she had a conversation with someone about the Presidential election. One thing the person asked her is how she would fix the process. In my conversation with her, I came up with a few ideas on the spot.

-Have early voting for all states for a month long. This would shorten the campaign cycle. Or we could have Election Day and even Primary Day be declared holidays where people get paid time off.
-Allow people to vote online using their Social Security number and address. A lot of government services like unemployment are already online. You can even register online in some states.
-Have ALL who are running take part in debates with questions from people via internet. They already do this with the primary.
-Popular vote should be the way to go. That would make ALL states matter, not just the few that get pandered to today.
-Allow people who have done their time in jail to vote in all states.
-No ID needed to vote. Use Social Security number. Even signatures can be faked.
-No party specific poll watchers.
-Have a combination of electronic and paper ballot like they have here in New York.
-Get rid of Super PACs. Only individuals can donate. Limit max donations to $500 given by an individual. That would go to the candidates and DNC/RNC.
-Make the number of signatures (around 20,000) to get on the ballot the same everywhere.
-Limit the number of ads allowed to air on TV and radio.
-Make appearance time equal on cable for everyone running.
-Allow write ins in every state.

I could go on and on if I wanted to. I’m a problem solver. I hate people who complain and have nothing to offer. I hate only being an ear. I’m the type to say, “we’re going to solve this together.” This is why I don’t have that many close friends, lol.

“If you are ready to criticize a system, be equally ready to offer assistance to improve it.” -Armando Sanchez

“If you’re outraged at conditions, then you can’t possibly be free or happy until you devote all your time to changing them and do nothing but that. But you can’t change anything if you want to hold onto a good job, a good way of life and avoid sacrifice.” -César Chávez

If you are really for what I have presented before you, I encourage you to link up with me!

All campaign season we heard a lot of back and forth such as how Republicans want to keep the poor and middle class down. I believe it is true, but I would even say that Democrats want to crush people’s freedom/voice too. What about third party candidates? Well, I honestly believe most of them run just to get on the speaking circuit, not to change the country. If they did want to change the country, they would be all over the internet since it is their only option. I think the internet would be key to their success. It was for the President in 2008.

I would go one step further with my proposals with saying that we should get rid of parties all together. Let people run on their own ideas!

While we can’t change this now, I encourage you all to vote tomorrow!

I want back and forth on who to vote for. I was going to go with Jill Stein, but since New York City got hit by the hurricane, I worry that not enough people will go out to vote tomorrow.

I intend on voting for President Barack Obama tomorrow on the Working Families Party line tomorrow to send a message to the President. I also intend on voting for Kirsten Gillibrand on the Working Families Party line. I hope my fellow New Yorkers will do the same.

People who know me have seen my support for the President on my Facebook and Twitter. Some might have seen my article on here criticizing him. I’m with the President on everything but his record on Free Speech. I feel that the President can moved on his current position on Free Speech. To me, Mitt Romney isn’t even an option since he has no specific plan and intends on hurting those in need. He has a record of hurting those less fortunate as CEO of Bain Capital and Governor of Massachusetts.

And when I consider my faith, I want a President who is guided by the morals of their faith.

So again, I encourage you to go out and vote for the President tomorrow. Find out your polling place and who’s on the ballot for other races. If you’re in New York City, your polling place might have change because of the hurricane. Do remember to vote in the other elections as well. They are as important as the Presidential election, if not more. Do research on the candidates of those races.

Side bar: I also endorse Governor Tim Kaine for the Senate seat in Virginia. I wish he was running in New York, lol.

Buy my book if you haven’t! Check out my website!

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My First Book is Out Now!

October 31, 2012


Today is my 25th Birthday. Coming from where I came from, living to see 25 is rare. I thank God for granting me a new year to live His Word. Today also happens to be the official release of my book with my mentee called Different Families, Still Brothers. You can see a preview of it and buy it now for $2.99. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the free Kindle app for any of your devices or even read the book in your browser. Above is an interview my mentee and I did with journalist David Whitely about the iMentor program based in New York City, our mentoring relationship and why mentoring is important. Please share!!! Stay strong. Keep it pushing. Peace be on to you, brothers and sisters! God bless!

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The Importance of Mentoring

October 22, 2012

The book cover

Today, I present to you all the first half of my intro essay to my upcoming book with my mentee Different Families, Still Brothers. Some of this essay contains elements from an earlier essay I wrote. Get more information about the book here. It will be out next week! To go along with the release of the book, I will be dropping an interview about the book with my mentee and I. It was done by a upcoming journalist David Whitely. Feel free to share this!

Being a mentor for the first time can be hard. For most people, their first mentee is their younger sibling. Mentoring your younger sibling can be rewarding and/or discouraging. Most first time mentors don’t know where to start with their mentee. Sometimes the outside factors of a mentor-mentee relationship can make the relationship null and void. This can be frustrating to the point where the mentor can be turned off to helping any other young person.

I know how that feels. I was almost at that point. My brother, who was my first mentee, and I were two peas in a pod. We hung out and played together outside. We played video games together. We played card games together. Since our parents weren’t invested in our lives, all we had was each other. I comforted him when my father fought my mom. I took him places to get his mind off the drama at home.

Most of my youth, I was with him. I led by example by doing well in school. I lectured him on how education was his way out of the life we lived. While he was in high school, he started to do horrible in it and disrespect my parents. I was in college at the time. My parents would repeatedly call me to have me talk to him. It got to the point where I said what I thought I would never say.

I told him, “I’m not going waste my breath with you if you’re not even going to try.” I was sick of talking to him about his disregard for himself and others. I was sick of telling him how he was heading towards the road of our father. He was sick of me lecturing him. I learned that you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. I proceeded to tell him, “There are other young people out there who aren’t going to waste my breath, my time.” I didn’t close the door fully on him though. I told him, “When you’re ready to be helped, when you’re ready to hear me speak, I will always be here for you.”

I was right about other young people being out there who weren’t going to waste my time. The time that this conversation with my brother occurred was when I was about to join a mentoring program called Saratoga Mentoring in Saratoga Springs, New York. This program’s mentees where middle school students from impoverished backgrounds. The program was a social one. The mentor-mentee pairs just spent time with each other on campus. I had two mentees in my three year run with the program.

Being in this program was the first time I was directly giving back to my people, poor people. I shared my life story with both mentees, but the first mentee wasn’t engaged in the program. Most of the time, he wasn’t showing up to campus. I could’ve been so upset that I would quit the program as well. But I didn’t. I asked for and was given another mentee. He was so engaged that I felt like a big brother to him.

But there was only so much you could do in a social program with a middle school student. The program is great for first time mentors. It got me into the world of mentoring. After I graduated college, I wanted to help even more than I did in that mentoring program. I remembered the mentoring program I was in as a high school student, iMentor.

First, I applied to get a job at iMentor and was stunned when I didn’t get hired after expressing how I related to the students and doing well on addressing a problem a mentor would encounter with a mentee. I wasn’t discouraged because I became a mentor in the program. I was amazed with how big iMentor got, which has it positives and negatives. One positive was that it had become more academic. One negative was how I seen a mentee can still fall in the cracks of society.

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“Poverty: Bigger Than the Block”

October 13, 2012


A lecture by me about what poor people in America endure and why we need to stand up for them. It was given at Free University Week.

In this video, I also talk about a new book I have coming out with my mentee. It is called Different Families, Still Brothers.

The book cover

It showcases the benefits of mentoring. It contains of two years worth of email exchanges between my mentee and I while they were in the iMentor program based in New York City. I give my mentee advice on the college application process, financial aid, dealing with the pressures of high school and so much more. We also share our stories of overcoming the many factors of poverty with each other. The book serves as a motivator for young people coming up in a crazy world.

It includes an introduction essay written by me called “The Importance of Mentoring.” In it, I encourage those who came from impoverished backgrounds to mentor and those who don’t know what it is like to be poor to do research to better serve those in poverty. Next week, I will post part of that essay.

The book will come out on November 1st, my 25th birthday, on Kindle. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the free Kindle app for any of your devices.

If you would like me to speak, lead a discussion, Bible Study or workshop at your meeting, event, conference or school, visit my website for more information.