Author and C.E.O. of Million Book March, LLC
As a youth, I would read because I had to read, but I really was not a motivated reader. That was partly because I was raised in a single-parent home where there was not as much one-on-one time because of my mother’s work schedule. I felt the effects of my lack of reading and motivation to read when I got to high school. The work was more challenging, and I did not retain information well. Subsequently, I failed off the basketball team as a junior. Not everyone gets a second chance, but because of my size, 6’8”, and potential, I was afforded the opportunity to attend Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia. This was a boarding school setting that provided me with the environment I needed to succeed academically. I received one-on-one instruction and was able to develop better study habits. I made Honor Roll the second semester of my junior year and received all A’s and B’s my senior year. In turn, I was named Mr. Oak Hill Academy, an award given to the student who best typifies what Oak Hill is all about. Unfortunately, with all my success, I did not pass the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). This test is a requirement to be eligible to play as a freshman in NCAA Sports. I did not develop the self-discipline needed to successfully complete the reading comprehension portion of the test. I glanced over the reading section, and I did not take it seriously. I believe that my lack of self-discipline during this important test was due to the absence of a solid reading foundation early in my life. Reading is truly fundamental.
“Reading is the foundation of education and education is the key to success. Our goal is to Inform, Educate and Empower all youth to read.”
“Go Pro in The Game of Life”
As a former University of Pittsburgh and Professional basketball player, I did not maximize my potential. I was very talented, and I assumed that I would play in the NBA. I was one of the top seventy-five players in the world and was a potential draft prospect in 1993. I quickly found out that talent only takes you so far. My name was not called on draft night and I began my professional career overseas in Spain. I played professionally for five years before being cut. I reported to training camp out of shape and overweight and was released after thirty days. I returned home to Richmond, VA with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts. I did not maximize my potential as a Student-Athlete. I could have majored in Criminal Justice, Education, Computer Science, or Communications. These are all great careers with financial security and stability. The lack of a solid reading foundation finally caught up with me. My degree afforded me the opportunity to work in the Henrico County public school system as an instructional assistant, long term substitute teacher, alternative education teacher, and basketball coach.
Unfortunately, I made some bad choices, and I started living a negative lifestyle. That lifestyle eventually resulted in me being incarcerated in 2013. I served forty-five months of a seventy-two-month sentence in Federal Prison. During my incarceration, my vision took place. While in the library reading one day, I came across an article titled “The School to Prison Pipeline”. The article stated that if you could not read by the end of fourth grade you will more than likely end up incarcerated. So, once I read that I wanted to dig a little DEEPER. My research led me to some interesting information.
The Department of Justice states, “The link between academic failure, delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure. Over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth-grade level.” According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of the fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare. 85% of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally low literate. Juvenile incarceration reduces the probability of high school completion and increases the probability of incarceration later in life. Students who drop out of high school are five times more likely than high school graduates to be arrested in their lifetime.
After hearing about The Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizen Affairs (MORCA) from DC residents while I was incarcerated, I relocated to Washington, DC after serving thirty-nine months in Federal Prison. I served my remaining six months sentence at Hope Village halfway house. Within a week’s time, I met with my case manager and was directed to MORCA. I quickly found out I was in the right place at the right time. MORCA seeks to remove barriers to reentry and empowers residents to break the cycle of recidivism. MORCA ensures that previously incarcerated people are connected to essential programs and services in areas such as identification, employment, health care, education, housing assistance, and social services. Through MORCA, I received a Job Readiness Certification from Project Empowerment in October 2016, and I completed the Green Construction Certification program in February 2017. After completing Project Empowerment, I earned a six-month administrative assistant internship opportunity at MORCA (How many times have you seen a 6’8 male receptionist greeting you at the entrance of an office?) If you want something different, you must do something different!!! My internship ended in May of 2017, and I started working as an Electrical Apprentice with Electrical General Corporation in Maryland utilizing my Green Construction Certification.
In September 2018, I had a full-circle moment in returning to MORCA as a Community Outreach Specialist with responsibilities involving helping other returning citizens navigate resources. Looking back, the mental toughness and discipline that led me to this point in my life were fully realized through the relationships and resources that were provided for me as I learned from previous patterns of behavior and now, I wholeheartedly value education, opportunities from others, and living with purpose. No one gets through life alone. I was the beneficiary of several re-entry programs: Catholic Charities, Back on My Feet, Echelon Community Services, Marshall Heights Community Development Organization, The Hope Foundation Reentry Network, National Reentry Network, and NAARC (National Association for the Advancement of Returning Citizens).
I have learned a lot about myself as well as the foundational needs of anyone wanting to achieve success. My mission is to provide educational services and be an advocate for change in a community that has given so much to me as a returning citizen. It is an awesome feeling to pay it forward. Currently, I serve as a resource development specialist in Washington, DC promoting wellness and supporting families with successfully navigating the child welfare reunification process.
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