One of my students recently likened me to a combination of Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, and Gandhi. The student’s remark keeps coming back at me when I hear stories of our underserved mistrusting the ones in power, or the ones in power hurting the ones they are supposed to be serving.
Our students don’t see a lot of positive events happening in their world, so if someone like Paul Penniman or any of our outstanding tutors or mentors decides to help them, our students sometimes feel they have died and gone to Heaven. One of our challenges at RISE is to communicate what life is like for our students, even the more proficient, compliant students who have realistic aspirations to a four-year college. Many of our students who are accepted to college have no one to take them to an all-day summer orientation, to deliver them to college in the fall, or visit during Family Weekend. They cannot pay their small deposit to reserve a spot in their freshman class. Their phone service is always tenuous, with someone different (maybe) paying the bill each month, so when they get to college and see IPhones everywhere, they feel out of place.
Our students who stay at home and look for jobs do so with great pessimism. There isn’t much legal commerce in their neighborhoods, and the idea of their procuring the least interesting, lowest paying job, which they would love, seems remote. Sometimes we need to drag them to the other side of the river to show them how good the economy is and show them that they, too, can get work.
Forty of our alumni received this type of career intervention during the past school year. These were mostly alumni whom we had helped get to the high school finish line but are unlikely to make it to the four-year college finish line and had little notion of themselves as employable in a livable wage career.
Our students need to realize they are as able and as entitled as their brethren on the other side of the river, and it shouldn’t be so unusual for a Paul Penniman or other RISE staff to land in their lives to show them the truth. RISE's supporters each year makes our presence in Ward 8 not seem so strange.