School became Katie’s refuge and the place where she excelled. When she too won a Children’s Defense Fund Beat the Odds® scholarship award in 2006, it was a turning point: “Beat the Odds really helped me to be able to tell my story and not be ashamed of the life I had lived.” Katie went on to graduate from Gustavus Adolphus College in southern Minnesota. She now works for Head Start in Minneapolis as the coordinator of its Project Secure for homeless children: “I was one of those kids and that’s where my heart is. They didn’t do anything wrong. I want to make sure they know that.”
La’Mont Geddis’s path to servant leadership started with a call to CDF’s headquarters from a pay phone after he heard a professor talk about the Freedom Schools® program during a lecture: “I’m a student at Howard University and I want to get involved in Freedom Schools. I want to make a difference.” That was 18 years ago, and La’Mont has since proved to be a truly valuable asset in the public schools of Washington, D.C. La’Mont always wanted to be a teacher and studied education at Howard, but believes much of what he knows about how to reach children comes from the training and experience he received as a servant leader intern, or teacher, in the Freedom Schools program, whose model curriculum provides summer and after-school enrichment that helps children fall in love with reading, increases their self-esteem, and generates more positive attitudes toward learning.
La’Mont’s first teaching job after Freedom Schools—a fourth grade class that had had six teachers by the time he got there in October—was so difficult he almost quit. But he remembered the message Freedom Schools instills in both its teachers and its students: You can make a difference. “I ended up loving that class and vice versa. I’ve followed some of them through college.” His career has since included serving as a principal and school leader, and he has never lost sight of the lessons he learned from Freedom Schools: “Teachers can become almost like robots. You go through the lessons without bringing in passion or creativity or empathy for the students. I’ve heard teachers say, ‘I don’t give parents my personal number’ and ‘I don’t make home visits.’ No. You’ve got to bring the school into the community and put all you’ve got into it. That’s the heart of Freedom Schools values. Teaching is not a profession. It’s a ministry.”
Jaime, Katie, and La’Mont are three of 40 young servant leaders whose stories we are celebrating as part of our 40th anniversary celebration—each representing hundreds, even thousands, of other young servant leaders who have come up through CDF’s leadership training ranks and who are making wonderful contributions as doctors, lawyers, educators, service providers, and parents in their communities and nation.
I am so proud of them all and so grateful for all their good work. They are a reminder that we must never ever give up on any child and that the most important responsibility every generation and nation has is to prepare its children—all of them—for the future.
(Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.)
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