There are many elements of being a nonprofit leader that go unseen. At any moment in time, you can be pulled in one thousand different directions. This leads to sometimes letting the little things get in the way of focusing on my primary goals, which in this case was not the story.
As I was on the phone with a prospective funder who seemed indifferent about supporting Coaching4Change efforts to increase the number of kids we impact on an annual basis. Towards the end of the call, after explaining logic models and theories of change, they asked: “What makes me an expert or qualified to impact schools and how do I know the program even works?”. I was flabbergasted to be even asked that question; I stuttered, stammered and mentally shut down. Following that comment, I changed the subject and got off the phone. And then, the moment I hung up the phone I regretted how I handled that situation.
As you can see the question completely caught me off guard. My mind drifted to wondering: why this person was asking me this question? Does he ask his Ivy League graduates this? Does he know that when I was getting tested for a learning disability at my neighborhood school, in the 2nd grade, there were bullet holes and bars on the windows?
At that moment I got frustrated, but here is how I wish I responded to the question:
From 3rd to 7th grade life in school was challenging. I was diagnosed with ADHD in 1991 before fidget spinners and other toys were popular that helped ADHD. I was the kid that was consistently in trouble, dismissed and labeled as the stupid and dumb kid by peers and teachers. Once I was slapped with the learning disability label, it felt as if I was a burden for teachers and was pushed out. What they didn't see was good kid trying to find his place in the world. But what they did see was a kid with to of energy and talked far too much. I had crazy ideas, could not sit still and loved to explore. Though all they saw was a boy continuously getting in trouble for not conforming to what they thought the norm was. I learned it was easier to get into trouble than to be exposed for my deficiencies.
During this time, I became fascinated with the streets. I did not grow up in the suburbs, I lived on 79th and Denker in Los Angeles. To put in in perspective it was about a half mile from where the Los Angeles riots started. I was raised by a single mother who after giving birth, climbed two flights of stairs with me in her arms to discover her apartment was robbed. We lived in a community where violence and crime were common because of drugs. Gangs fought for their territory to sustain their enterprise. My mother created a series of positive experiences for me during out of school time that kept me engaged and focused.
Education is not just about numbers, data points, and outcomes. It is about having the ability to adjust and work with young people in a variety of ways that help them self-discover and thrive.
I have been the CEO and Co-Founder of Coaching4Change for seven years. My team and I have helped thousands of kids feel empowered and more connected to their school even when they have been labeled as the "bad" or "troubled" kid. The program works with schools to identify students that show signs of struggling or dropping out. We consistently communicate with teachers to ensure our activities complement school day learning. Based on our own proof points, we have learned when kids work with us for 14 months they fully re-engaged in school.
Within our program the results have shown that more than 70% of our students improve on their report card, over 88% of our students are sent to the office less, and 97% of our students love being involved in our program.
Like I said, I wish this is how I responded but looking back it was a learning moment for me. At the end of the day, I am trying to carve out a space for the "misfit kids”, like I was. ”Misfit kids" meaning young people who learn differently, feel overlooked, ignored and sometimes are just overwhelmed by life. This space should be part of every school's community to ensure ALL kids have a safe place to explore and learn without the fear of being labeled and judged.