David: ‘I Am a Future Leader for Our City’

David delivers his speech at the Lights on Afterschool event.

David speaks about his experiences in afterschool programs during the Lights On Afterschool event.

On Thursday, October 17th, the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates (DCAYA) and the Afterschool Alliance hosted the 12th annual Lights On Afterschool, an event celebrated nationwide to call attention to the importance of afterschool programs for America’s children. David, a 12th-grade Scholar, was asked to deliver remarks on his experiences in afterschool programs. He shared the stage with community leaders like Eton Thomas, Councilmember Jim Graham, and Deputy Mayor Beatriz “BB” Otero. David even got to help Mayor Vincent Gray proclaim DC Afterschool Day.

David shares the stage with Mayor Vincent Gray and Councilmember Jim Graham.

David shares the stage with Mayor Vincent Gray and Councilmember Jim Graham.

All of us at FLOC are incredibly proud of David, and we are excited to be able to share his remarks with you here. We’d also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at DCAYA and the Afterschool Alliance for thinking of FLOC and its students when planning this event.

Remarks Given at the DCAYA Lights On Afterschool Event

Hello, my name is David.  I am 16 years old, and I am a senior at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School.  Statistics say I’m 34 times more likely to be incarcerated in my lifetime than my white counterparts, and if that were to happen to me, it would happen afterschool.

But it hasn’t.  I am an honor roll student; I’m a POSSE semifinalist; I’m already contributing to organizations that helped me; and I am a future leader for our city.

I am fortunate to have attended good schools and received excellent support in the classroom, but it’s thanks to the diverse afterschool programs I’ve participated in that I have the skills, the drive, and the confidence to be a leader.

It’s taken a lot of time to get here.  I moved to DC from the Dominican Republic when I was 10 years old.  Then, as now, my mom worked incredibly hard to support us.

Her job required her to be out the door by 4:30 each morning and we normally did not see her until 8 or 9 each night.  In the Dominican Republic, my mom was a teacher and knew the importance of educational opportunities. She knew that in order for us to succeed, we needed support outside of the school day.

But according to a 2004 Public Agenda survey, low-income and minority parents are much more likely than higher-income and white parents to have trouble finding quality, affordable afterschool programs.

We were lucky. My mom found programs that were so much more than just a safe place after school.  In places like For Love of Children, I was able to enroll in programs that engaged me based on my interests, programs that didn’t just help me with my homework.

FLOC gave me new opportunities and took me to new places. From college tours to trips to our Outdoor Education Center in West Virginia, I’ve been around. Thanks to afterschool programs, I can say that I’ve had a staring competition with a bear, and I won.

That’s probably something that wouldn’t happen on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The network of people who are supporting me has grown to include community leaders, caring adult mentors, and talented students from other parts of the city.  These people are offering so much more than a refuge from the streets. They are the link between my classroom achievements, my development as a young adult, and fulfilling the goals my mother had when she brought us to the United States.

At the end of this school year, I will be part of the ninth consecutive class where 100% of FLOC students are graduating high school on time and on track to attend a postsecondary institution.  I will join my sisters, and become part of the nearly 80 students who are still connected to FLOC and receiving continued support on their path toward a degree.  Yesterday, I took the SAT and then spent the afternoon working with my FLOC postsecondary coach finishing up my common app.

When I started in afterschool programs, I thought I was just playing around with my friends.  I didn’t realize that the games we played were actually building the softer skills that I’ll need to be successful in college and in life.  I was becoming an academically proficient, culturally literate, intellectually reflective, life-long learner.  I’ve also developed the hard skills that guarantee I can participate in the 21st century job market.  I’ve built a robot that can play basketball and block more shots than Alonzo Mourning.

To get students excited about afterschool programs, you need to do more than just give them a space to be; you need to ignite their passion for learning. I encourage the policy makers and community leaders here today to be innovative, to engage the young people who haven’t made the connection to an effective afterschool program, and to invest in those programs that have demonstrated success.

I’ll tell you what I told the Deputy Mayor: students don’t become disconnected because they are lazy. We are interested in all sorts of things, and we each have unique talents.  We need programs that connect us to other people who have the same interests, that show us how to develop these interests into tangible skills; skills that mean better performance in school, better opportunities in college, and higher paying jobs.

In conclusion, I’d like to tell you about one of my solutions.  FLOC connected me to a program called Learn Serve International where I’ve been given the opportunity to engage in programming that teaches high school juniors and seniors to develop innovative solutions to community challenges.  My project is focused on afterschool programming: giving elementary and middle school students access to fully stocked, high-tech laboratories where college students will guide them through scientific experiments, robot-building, and computer programming. We all know what the future is going to look like, so why aren’t we providing young students in our community the skills necessary to thrive there? We are still looking for seed funding. If you’re interested, please come talk to me after this is over.

Afterschool programs have been critical in my development and success. Education, according to Allan Bloom, is the movement from darkness to light. Afterschool programs, like the ones I’ve participated in, like the ones that are still just ideas in your head, are how we turn on the light.

(Cody Laminack is the NTP Program Manager at FLOC).

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