Special to The New Tri-State Defender
For some students and young adults in the Hyde Park neighborhood, the thought of one day flying an airplane or inventing a process that leads to them creating a business is a lot more real because of a program offered by Transformational Living Centers of Memphis.
Transformational Living Centers of Memphis (TLCOM) is a non-profit organization based in Hyde Park. It concentrates on empowering youth for a positive society. An open door greets children; however, young adults are welcomed, as well as those recently out of incarceration.
Michael Graham, the executive secretary for TLCOM, has a vision of restoring his childhood neighborhood (Hyde Park) to what he said it used to be 20 years ago. He wants to see young men with children being good fathers. He wants them to pull up their pants and usher in a return to the way African-American males once wore their clothes (shirts, ties and Stacey Adam boots).
"Approximately 70 percent of the African-American males in Hyde Park do not have their high school diploma or GED," Graham said. "Twenty years ago, 85 percent of the people in Hyde Park had high school diplomas, GEDs, and had a vision to go to college."
Graham and Jason Black, CEO of TLCOM, have set their expectations for the program very high. They want to provide a service to the community that is "unheard of." Along the way, they want the students' GPAs to go from 2.5 to 4.8.
About 15 students are associated with the program, which also gives them an opportunity to learn about African-American history, classical music, aviation, HBCUs and African-American entrepreneurs.
An introductory flying course, TLCOM's first student activity (on July 7), grabbed the students' attention. Each took off in a Cessna 172 with a trained pilot, flew the Memphis pattern, and landed the aircraft from Downtown Aviation.
"I already told all my friends about the program for next summer," said DeVito Ross, 15, who was selected to receive training for his private pilot's license.
Another activity session introduced the students to Joel Lyons, the CEO of Lyons Cleaners. Lyons showed them how to restore clothes that had been damaged by fire, water or mold. He detailed growing up on the south side of Chicago, entering the U.S. Navy, and making his way to Memphis, where he attended Christian Brothers University and thought of a brilliant idea of fabric restoration for dry cleaning.
Lyons, who now operates the only African-American restoration company in the southeast United States, shared an inspirational message with the students: "Keep God first, go big or go home, and never let anybody stop your dream."
On another occasion, the students met former NFL player, Marcus Bell, a member of coaching staff for The University of Memphis. He pitched the value of a good education and the importance of always having a Plan B.
"It was good that the students got to meet Marcus Bell because it lets our kids know that they can be pro athletes too, but education is more important," said Cori Hill, a parent. "Not too many people can say they came from the hood and say they're a millionaire."
Graham and Black have partnered with organizations such as Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Kappa Kappa Psi National Honorary Band Fraternity, and Tau Beta Sigma National Honorary Band Sorority to educate the students about musical genres including classical, jazz, orchestra and ragtime.
"They don't always have to know about rap. Why not know some Chopin, Beethoven, or Bach?" Graham asked.
TLCOM is free to students and young adults. The Black Hawk Pilots Association is providing scholarship opportunities for eligible students to get their private pilot's license. For eligibility, you must have a GPA of 3.0 or above and have completed 30 hours of community service.
"We want this to grow bigger and better, and with the help of doctors, lawyers, engineers, home health care, and insurance agents, it can," Graham said.
"Our future is in our hands. If we don't let the children know what's there, they can't reach for it."
(For more information on Transformational Living Centers of Memphis, contact Michael Graham at 901-210-3691 or email him at mjgraham1965@ yahoo.com.)