LET’S DO BETTER
What kind of future does a child have who is being reared in Camden, N.J.? After an initial look at Camden’s demographics and conditions, most of us would respond, “Not much.” The U.S. Census Bureau reported 42 percent of Camden’s population lives in poverty. The New Jersey Department of Education reported 90 percent of Camden’s secondary students score in the bottom five percent of students in the state. And, reportedly, only 49 percent of Camden students graduate from high school.
While the majority of individuals would likely believe Camden students are doomed to a life of crime, violence and unemployment, there is one woman who didn’t buy into the rhetoric. She is 40-year-old, Camden native, Tawanda Jones. Her quote sums up her motivation. She said, “These kids want more. They don’t want to be dodging bullets for the rest of their lives.” Thus, she founded the “Camden Sophisticated Sisters Drill Team” and what a difference this organization has made. Some people really do believe that most individuals want to do better While we can’t engage in “all or none hypothesizing,” finding people who say “I want to be poor, uneducated, and shot at” would be just about impossible. So, let’s start with the premise that people want to do better—the problem is finding enough individuals to believe them.
Jones was one of the 10 finalists who was nominated for the 2013 “Hero of the Year” award, hosted by CNN and directed by journalist Anderson Cooper. Jones was not the winner, but her contributions to children and Camden were not unnoticed. Jones and eight other heroes, each received $50,000 for their respective programs. The “Hero of the Year” received $250,000. Jones received national notoriety, which included drill team appearances on “Dancing with the Stars” and “Good Morning America.”
Cooper said, of the ten finalist, “These are just ordinary people changing the world.” Jones’ lifestyle certainly makes her “everyday people.” Jones was only 14 years old when she founded the team. Her grandfather, Walter Green, helped organize the now 26-year-old troupe. This group has been funded by Jones, family members and solicitation of public funds. Green purchased the first uniforms and first three drums for the team. Jones was a teenage mother. She currently has three children and works full time for a job placement agency.
Initially, Jones mission was to entice young girls to stay of the streets and become academically successful. After several years, boys were added to the team. Currently, the team is comprised of 150 members. Each member is expected to complete community service, decipher ways to improve their neighborhoods and maintain at least a C academic school average.
The team members are a “living testimony.” According to Jones, of the 4,000 students who have participated with the troupe, all have graduated from high school. Some students said the troupe kept them from joining gangs, others said their grades improved. Some students are college bound or in college due to Jones, affectionately referred to as “WaWa” by the students.
Some of us become discouraged with the plight of the disenfranchised and believe permanent progress is an unrealistic expectation. This is a false position to take. All of us can, yes, just ordinary people like Jones, make a difference. Perhaps, we are unable to be a Martin Luther King Jr., and thereby change the nation and world. Yet, we can be vessels for individuals or groups, on some level.
There is an endless list. Some individual is unable to pick-up his/her medication, some people need their homes cleaned, others need transportation to the grocery store or a job interview, some students need assistance with homework, still others need coaches for their sports teams and mentors with whom they can share their frustrations and goals. We can be fundraisers, board members and food distributors for those who have no money for food purchases.
In other words, let us look at our community problems as numerous, alike the many trees that make up a forest. Let’s pretend the job has been given to eliminate the forest by chopping down the trees because wood is needed to build homes. However, the only permissible method is using an axe. While none of us could cut down all of the trees, each of us could cut at least one, some of us at least two, and many of us 10 times that amount. The principle is the same with our co-human beings. Each of us are expected to “play-it-forward” (help each other) for that is our reasonable service.
Brenda Robinson is an NNPA Emory O. Jackson award-winning columnist for Frost Illustrated.