- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2004

If you believe all that happens at Frank W. Ballou High School in Southeast is bad, then you should meet Sharece Crawford and Tamara Brown.

These Ballou students, wearing jeans and sporting braids, exemplify the majority of students, who don’t make sad headlines or sorry statistics.

We are well aware of the recent tragic events, including the death of a promising football star James Richardson, at the 1,100-student high school that sits amid a community in distress and beset by warring factions.

But as 15-year-old sophomore Tamara pointed out, last week when reports cards were distributed there was not a single positive story about students like herself who made the honor roll.

Tamara and 16-year-old junior Sharece are smart, mature, attractive and goal-oriented students who want to beat the odds and make a difference.

“What really burns me up is that there are people counting on us to fail because of where we come from, but I’m going to prove everybody wrong,” said a forceful Sharece. “Just because you come up in poverty doesn’t mean we’ll always be that way.”

No doubt they will succeed, thanks in part to a program, Community Equity Empowerment Partnership (CEEP), organized by community and corporate leaders, that provides technological and vocational training in area high schools.

“People pay thousands of dollars for this training, and I realize I’m getting a free learning experience and a stipend. It beats working at Popeye’s,” said Sharece during an interview Saturday at bustling Laval’s Restaurant on Alabama Avenue SE.

Ballou students enrolled in CEEP will be presented Dream2Dream Destiny Achievers Awards on Thursday at a program celebrating 10 years of the nonprofit organization at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring.

Community leaders, including civil rights maven Dorothy I. Height, Stacey D. Stewart of the Fannie Mae Foundation, Marie Johns of Verizon and Corey Griffin of Microsoft will receive Equity Awards for their contributions to the program.

Mr. Griffin, 33, is passionate about CEEP’s progress and potential because he has firsthand knowledge about growing up in the Southeast neighborhood surrounding Ballou. He can readily name 10 friends and classmates who have been victims of street violence.

“I’m driven to be involved, being a product of D.C. and growing up in Southeast and dealing with some of the challenges these students face,” said Mr. Griffin, Washington-based global operations manager for Microsoft, who will take over as chairman of the CEEP board.

While Microsoft provides funding as well as software to help students with computer training, Mr. Griffin provides them with a successful role model.

The CEEP program was started by the Rev. Tom Skinner, a now-deceased community activist. It has two components that have served more than 400 D.C. students, ages 14 to 21, since its inception. One teaches career orientation, film and broadcast media and computer technology in schools. The other, in the community, trains youth in cosmetology and barbering, culinary arts and music recording and audio engineering.

“When you see bad things happen in your school, you don’t want them to happen again, so I want to do whatever I can to make a difference,” Sharece said.

Sharece, who is enrolled in the media broadcasting section of CEEP, wants to major in political science in college and become a corporate lawyer.

This vice president of Ballou’s student government association says her communications skills have improved through the CEEP training. She feels “like a better person” and she is meeting lots of people and now giving speeches as a student representative of the organization.

Last summer, this talkative go-getter was employed at the Department of Homeland Security, where she was able to view large monitors of the city.

“Who would have thought that I would be sitting in a seat at the top of the world?” she said, beaming a wide smile.

Tamara, a cheerleader, is more timid but no less focused. She is studying cosmetology and barbering because she dreams of opening her own salon, possibly on the West Coast. She really likes her CEEP teacher, Rokesha Philson, who helps her with problems and has taught her how to dress and prepare for job interviews.

Tamara is the only teen I’ve ever heard say: “Getting into trouble means you’re not going nowhere, and it’s boring being in trouble. It’s better to be good.” That might have to do with her strict and watchful mother, Carolyn Brown, a D.C. police officer assigned to the 7th District. “A lot of programs have shut down, but [CEEP] is good opportunity to give them something to do,” Officer Brown said.

Sadly, to stay out of trouble and “not get caught up in a lot of mess,” as Sharece said, the teens try to keep to themselves, opting not to have friends in school. This solitary situation, they say, is a survival tactic. It is also a sad commentary on student life in this area, as high school should be the time when friendships are an integral part of life.

But being members of CEEP offers some relief. “In CEEP, we’re all a big family and everybody’s got everybody’s back,” Sharece said.

Mr. Griffin said the D.C. government contributes to the CEEP programs through grants from the Department of Employment Services. However, CEEP corporate leaders such as Microsoft say much more needs to be done, and they want to expand the training programs.

It’s a worthy goal, so that the future headlines coming out of Ballou will be about students like Sharece Crawford and Tamara Brown.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide