Eight years ago, I had a life-changing moment. So great was this moment that it became the foundation of my personal and professional life. I rarely discuss it with others and I am very hesitant to write about it publicly. But I feel that my story may help shed a different light on a terrible situation occurring in Washington, D.C. right now.
Since 2001, I have served as a “Big Brother” in Washington, D.C. and Maryland. My two “littles” come from rough backgrounds. They’ve never had a relationship with their biological parents. Their parents chose alcohol, prostitution, drugs and jail over love, nurturing and responsibility. It’s heartbreaking.
My youngest, Tre’von, lives in Maryland, and was adopted by his foster mom—a wonderful woman who does her best for Tre’von and two other adopted children, but life is a struggle for this family.
Tre and I have a special relationship. I’m the only male in his life and I love him like a son. I’ve preached to him to fight for a better future—one that breaks the vicious cycle of children growing up without parents. We talk about it every week.
He wants it, too, but at 14 the bad influences are beginning to overwhelm him. His mom needs more than me: She’s begging for more help, more structure, more positive influences and a safe place for him to attend school. But without the means, she’s losing the battle.
Tre is trapped in a bad public school where teachers would rather push kids through the system than prepare them for college. Tre says gangs run the show at his school and trying to make good grades is akin to standing naked in front of his entire class. It’s not a popular move.
Although Tre hasn’t joined a gang or used drugs, he’s acting up in class and failing his core subjects. My regular mentoring and tutoring simply isn’t enough to withstand the tsunami around him.
Put yourself in Tre’s shoes. What would you do? What would you do if you grew up without your real mom and dad and no one in school cared if you did homework or progressed in class? What would you do if you were surrounded by gang members and drug dealers five days a week, eight hours a day? Can you imagine the pressure? Could you blame him if he gave in to it all?
His mom tells me she can’t afford private school. For the last few months I’ve fought like hell to help Tre change schools, but I’ve come up empty.
I’m losing him and my heart is broken.
What’s most frustrating is that I have zero options to help Tre change schools. He is not eligible for the limited charter schools available in Maryland and the state doesn’t offer a scholarship/voucher program that would get him to a better, safer private school.
We’re just about out of options.
This leads me back to the recent vote in Congress to kill the reauthorization of the Washington, D.C. voucher program, the Opportunity Scholarships, which allowed 1,700 eligible D.C. kids to escape their low-performing public schools for a free and safe private education.
I empathize with the parents who are devastated by this decision.
Numerous publications have written about the hypocrisy of some Congressional Democrats who attended private school in their youth and send their children to private school yet voted against the reauthorization of this successful law—and if you don’t think it’s been successful, go ask a parent who’s child is enrolled in this program. THey essentially killed the chance for low-income, mostly minority parents to have those same opportunities.
For a second, take the political game out of play and put yourself in the parent’s shoes.
Imagine if you are a struggling single mom raising your kids in a terrible living environment. You work hard, you raise your child the right way, but you still need help. Then you’re given the opportunity of free private school—a safe place where learning is encouraged and college isn’t just a pipe dream.
Now imagine it’s suddenly taken away and your child must return to an unsafe and unstable learning environment. Congress deemed it unworthy. Poof—gone.
How would you feel?
I don’t pretend to know this exact situation—I only know my situation and it’s compelled me to use this platform to fight for what I think is right.
Unfortunately, Tre doesn’t have many options. I will continue to mentor, tutor, and help him—and hope his public school magically changes its current situation.
This issue and Tre’s fight has inspired me—enough so that I am seriously thinking of adopting an older child from foster-care one day. Those tossed aside are worth saving.
I hope—no, I pray—that President Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan fight back against the Congressional Democrats’ recent vote to kill the Opportunity Scholarship program.
Real lives are depending on their decision and all of these children are worth saving.<!–[if gte mso 9]><xml>
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<![endif]–> Phillip Stutts is president of Phillip Stutts & Company. You can follow Phillip at www.PhillipStutts.com or on twitter @phillipstutts.