Christopher Dean has noticed the change, people looking at him in a way much different than he can ever recall being gazed upon before. Special to the Tri-State Defender from KQ Communications
Christopher Dean has noticed the change, people looking at him in a way much different than he can ever recall being gazed upon before.
Rise Goal Card students and program coordinators: bottom row – Shaneka Graham and Sameka Johnson; second row – Dominique Covington, Desiree Kimbrell and Christopher Dean; top row – Ricco Mitchell and LaDarius Moore. (Courtesy photo)
Booker T. Washington High School graduating senior and RISE Goal Card program participant Christopher Dean speaking during President Barack Obama’s visit to the 2011 BTW Commencement exercises.
“People want autographs and to take pictures with me, but that’s not important to me,” said Dean, who introduced President Barack Obama at the Booker T. Washington High School graduation last month.
“What is important is that I have a positive image, an educational image.”
Still basking in the glow of having introduced the 44th President, Dean says he might not have made it to the limelight without help from the RISE Foundation’s Goal Card program.
Raised in inner city Memphis in the Foote Homes /Cleaborn Homes neighborhood, Dean is no stranger to adversity. One of four siblings in a fatherless household, he did not fall prey to community social ills that alarmingly engulfed so many others.
Well aware of the temptations of living a life in and of the streets, Dean made a critical decision during his first year of high school.
“I remember hearing Mr. Ricco Mitchell speak to students, first in my middle school and then at Booker T. Washington about the (Rise Goal Card) program,” said Dean, who opted to participate.
Initiated in 2003, the Goal Card program, sponsored by International Paper, teaches financial literacy and pushes overall success in school to elementary, middle and high school students in neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of low-income families. Goal Card is part of the RISE Foundation’s overall focus of teaching families how to lift themselves out of poverty via their own hands.
Youth such as Dean are provided incentives for meeting goals and making measured improvements in the areas of academics/grades, conduct and attendance. Points earned for achievement can be redeemed each grading period for the rewards. Or participants may build up their points to reap bigger rewards. Dean redeemed his points for short-term benefits such as money to pay for his senior dues, as well as funding for his college education.
The Rise Goal Card program now serves the 38126 zip code and focuses on students at Georgia Avenue, Larose and Cummings elementary schools, Vance Middle School, and Booker T. Washington High School. Students learn the importance of setting goals for their education and are held accountable for academic performance and school attendance. Sessions on college preparation, etiquette and other group activities expose them to information and resources to help develop skills to create success.
Sameka Johnson, Youth Program Coordinator, has noticed an increased interest from both students and parents in the program. “We currently work with about 320 students annually through the Goal Card program, up from about 180 students just two years ago,” Johnson said.
Funding is a challenge.
“Most of our funds come through corporate sponsors and we look forward to additional corporate and individual support,” Johnson said.
“A donation of just $500 could fund a semester of incentives for one school or transportation for students during our summer program. Although programmatically funding is one of our greatest challenges, we don’t allow funding to slow down our momentum because we love what we do.”
Interested donors and volunteers are encouraged to contact RISE’s main office. Volunteers can help in various ways, including serving as mentors.
Dean’s story reflects the impact and importance of mentors. He credits Ricco Mitchell, Goal Card coordinator for College Park, for being the father that he did not have and for guiding him along a path that is shining ever brighter.
He recalls father-like instruction on everything from how to shake a person’s hand and look them in the eye while speaking to them, to getting Mitchell’s help to land a job with the Memphis Chamber, where he learned about job etiquette, and networking with city leaders.
“The world needs more people like Mr. Mitchell to find and help people like me because this program has helped me,” said Dean.
“Memphis is a great place, (and) if every child had an opportunity like me, it would be even better.”