If you are around Kerrith for five minutes you know that she LOVES the kids at Douglass and loves this community, so we asked her to share her story.
Kerith: In the 8th grade I decided that I loved English. I got my first D in Mr. Roger Brunson’s class. At first I cried my eyes out, because I was used to making all A’s. Once I got over the shock I asked, “why did you give me this D?” He said, “Well, I didn’t give it to you, you earned it. You think you are smarter than you are.” That stuck with me more than anything in high school.
I had the same experience in Algebra 2. I got an F from Ms. Margie Bell. That rocked my world, again I had always made A’s. She sat down with me and said, “You actually have to study, you can’t just walk in here and make an A.” I’m still don’t care for math, but I remember that lesson–I learned so much from those teachers.
I graduated from Treadwell in 1999 and went to the University of Memphis. I knew the students in Mitchell Heights needed the same inspiration and motivation that I received in high school, and I saw Coach Garner Curry, Cora Lewis, Margie Bell, and Roger Brunson retiring and I thought, “Somebody has to teach these children.” When I graduated from Memphis, I called Dr. Malone, who was the principal at Treadwell and said, “I need a job and I want to teach English.” He took a chance on me and the 10th grade English job was mine, and I stayed there until it became a middle school, then I followed the kids to Douglass. I see so much of myself in these kids: I thought I was a brilliant brain child, but with my good grades I still couldn’t make higher than 21 on the ACT.
There are two things that I try to get the kids to see:
1. You do not have to be a product of your environment: you can be extremely successful and be from this neighborhood. If my life were a book, the title would be NO MORE EXCUSES, because the reason I am here is to take away the excuses of every student in the building. I have been without lights; I have been hungry; I have sat outside the school for hours waiting on a ride; I have done all of it and I am still successful. My teachers wouldn’t allow me to come to school with an attitude and not do my work because things at home weren’t ideal. If I had to sit up at night with flashlights to do my homework because the lights were out, then that’s just what I had to do because Ms. Margie Bell did not play about algebra homework
. I want them to know that some of what they are challenged with are serious issues, but none of it is an excuse to be disrespectful, lazy, or a failure.
2. I want them to be more than what I call “Douglass” smart. I say that because I graduated 8th in my class with a 4.2 gpa and it meant absolutely nothing when I got to the U of M. I tell them, just because you make A’s and are in honor society here (which is a good thing), out there you have to compete with students from outside of North Memphis. The competition is fierce, and if you settle for just being in the top 5% out of 150 kids, you may not make the top 50% when you face real competition.
I wish I had listened when people told me that there was a world outside of where I grew up. In my school I was the bomb, but outside there was a whole new world and I fell flat on my face. I don’t want these students to make the same mistakes I did.
What do this kids have that would surprise most people? These children love to help people–they are givers. I have never seen a group of students so willing to give back. I run the Optional Program: Public Service and Communication Arts. The students in the program have to do 100 community service hours, and they love it, often going above and beyond.
Also, these kids have a zeal for learning: they want to know. We have great teachers, but I enjoy seeing the students still wanting more. They have a thirst for knowledge and I love that about them.
What can the community do better? We need to quit thinking so negatively. Expect greatness so our students and teachers can reach those expectations. The way we think is how we present ourselves. If we think everyone in Douglass is bad then we get scared and have low expectations and that doesn’t help. Expect great things.
I love this whole area. There are so many great people who came from here. We go through hard times, but that only makes us more resourceful in life: the things that you learn here are invaluable.
Kerith can be found at Douglass anytime students are around. She is having great impact on their lives everyday.
Thank you Kerith for loving our community!