This week we got to spend time with TD, if you do not know him, you should. He has a great story to tell:
I grew up in Mitchell Heights on Hudson. When I graduated from Treadwell I began working at the Boys and Girls Club. My job was take young men at 14 and groom them until they were 18 to make sure they were ready to go to college. I would put any one of my 14 year olds against any 14 year old in the city: they could make resumes and do interviews better than anybody: 80% ended up going to college on scholarships and the other 20% were ready for the workforce.
You worked in that job for a while, why did you leave? I was selling the dream of college, but I had graduated form Treadwell and gotten the job at Boys and Girls Club without going to school, so it was kind of hypocritical. The 2004 class baited me to go to college. So I went back to school with that class and worked with the Boys and Girls club for 3 years while going to school. In 2007 I got a job at the University of Memphis as a lab tech and had to leave the Boys and Girls Club, so I passed the torch on to Jeremy Lawson and he picked up where I left off.
Adults that grew up in the Heights keep telling me that we need more people to be involved in the lives of these kids. We do. I just started a non-profit called The Academy. I want to work with kids that have learning disabilities, because during my time at Christian Brothers University I learned that there is a connection between people with disabilities and crime: when you cannot read and school is not your thing, you’re still going find a way to eat. We need to teach that there are other means to provide for yourself. The Academy will be the same things I did with the job readiness program at the Boys and Girls Club: working with the kids when they they start their transitional planning: planning for life after high school.
So, what happened after the University Memphis? I graduated from Memphis and went on to Christian Brothers University. I am graduating next month top of my class, with a Masters in Special Education. Then I will start my doctorate at Memphis in August. I am using all these degrees as a way to show people in the neighborhood that if I can do it then anyone can do it.
I was one of those kids that walked around hopeless. I was even doubting myself as I was leading other kids, thinking “I am from this neighborhood, I am not supposed to do this.” And now I am graduating with a Masters–it doesn’t seem real.
I would like to credit my fraternity for leading by example and always pushing me harder never allowing me to be just average and pushing me to be the best in my field. Manhood, scholarship, perseverance, and uplift have been my cardinal principles that have grounded me and have given me the foundation I needed to keep going through adversity.
So now you are starting a non profit, The Academy, to help students with learning disabilities prepare for life? Yes. The school system needs help to make their transitional planning effective. I want to do that with job readiness training and exposing the kids to things: TSU, Fed-Ex, UT-Martin, The Chocolate Factory… to show them that there are so many options.
What are the best things about Mitchell Heights? The family camaraderie. We are a family environment and everyone knows everyone. That makes me not want to give up on the neighborhood. I am coming back, I just needed to prepare myself so I could be equipped when I come back. I am going to work to change that neighborhood back, even better than it was.
What is your message to people growing up in our community? I have a learning disability and for a long time I thought I was stupid. I did not know why I could not learn. I have dyslexia and I want use my degrees for anyone else who has a disability or for those who have been counted out or told they could not do it. You can do it, because I did it through all my adversity. I am about to start my doctorate degree, so my message to the people behind me is DON’T GIVE UP.
I love my neighborhood. I ride through sometime and it gives me euphoria just to ride through and reminisce all the good times. Most people may not see it like that, but Mitchell Heights is not a bad place.