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Levi Thompson is a Senior at Anacostia High School In Ward 8 and a Peer Leader of our Youth-Led Program. Levi was a keynote speaker at SBY’s fundraising Gala hosted by Lady Sheinwald at the British Embassy on May 9, 2011. His remarks are published here.
My name is Levi Thompson. I am a graduating senior at Anacostia Senior High School and a 3 year member of Youth-Led, Sasha Bruce’s after-school program. Thank you for having me with you tonight.
This opportunity has caused me to reflect on how and why my life has led me towards the positive path that I am on now. I am very happy to be here and to share with you because I really feel like my involvement with Sasha Bruce has been important to my success.
Like so many other young people who I know and who live around me, I have witnessed and experienced many difficult things in my life. My mother is very loving but she was young when my brother and sister and I came along and my father was abusive to her. She would leave us alone and we had to learn how to fend for ourselves. I am fortunate because as children, we stuck together and took care of one other.
There was a lot of violence in our world. As a young child, I saw my father stabbed and saw him get shot. I also saw my uncle shoot someone. I came from situations where it seemed like everyone I knew was in trouble. I didn’t want my surroundings to be that way, but because things were difficult for us it was easy to see how violence could happen.
About 1 year ago, my mother lost her job and we became homeless. My whole family was broken up. I lived with my grandmother and couch surfed at friends. I was very worried about my brother and sister and mother. Even so, I stayed in school and involved in Youth-Led. Having that support helped me to pull through, especially because my motivation to do well started to slip. The Youth-Led staff helped me to stay focused and to get through that time.
I think that one of the great things that has happened to me was finding the Youth-Led After-school program. At the time I got involved, I was not getting into trouble but I was smoking weed almost every day and night, hanging with a crowd of people who were always in trouble, not going to class and hanging in the hallways all day. It was just a matter of time before I ended up on the wrong track.
Youth-Led teaches us how to use community organizing as a way to improve life in our community and our school. It immediately made sense to me that I wanted to become involved because I always wanted to help people and I was tired of things always being negative around me. I wanted to change things. Not just for me, but for everyone like me. I felt that if we all knew how powerful our lives and experiences are; we could use them to really create change.
I started to believe this after I participated on our first campaign to change my school’s discipline policy. We started it after a gang fight broke out and 3 students were stabbed. It didn’t make sense to us that the school’s response to the situation was to give long-term suspensions to some of the students involved. We learned about the root causes of violence and determined that more support systems had to be in place to prevent school violence. After a lot of research and spreading our message in the community, we were able to work with the Chancellor to create a new school discipline policy – not just for our school, but for the whole school district.
That experience taught me how to transform negative situations into positive ones and to become a leader in the program and in my life. Sasha Bruce Youth-Led has also helped me in very personal ways. The program helps me to support myself because I get paid to do this kind of work. This is great because I can help out at home while I am doing important things to make our community better. I am now an Organizing Peer Leader, and I work with students at Ballou Senior High School to make the changes that they would like to see in their school. So far, I have led students at Ballou in their campaign to build a more modern, safe and healthy school. Through research, we found that 50% of the students do not eat at school even though 85% are on free or reduced price lunch because the cafeteria only has 200 seats for 500 students and one lunch line to serve them all. This makes it hard for everyone to have time to eat and to stay focused and motivated on their academics. Also, there are classrooms with rat holes in the walls, classes with 40 students to one teacher, and not enough text books for every student . We need a new Ballou and I am proud to say that through Sasha Bruce Youth-Led, I have learned the skills to make it happen.
More than anything, Youth-Led has seen to it that I continue to stay on course at school. I am going to graduate this year on time and will go to the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore. It is my dream to transfer to Howard University after my first year at UMES and to study the history of poor people’s movements.
I am proud of myself for how much I have grown and I can say with honesty that it is because I have had the support of Sasha Bruce. The Sasha Bruce Youth-Led staff has been there for me through thick and thin; and has done everything they can to see me be my best.
Sasha Bruce is an incredible organization. No other organization in the city does as much for young people as Sasha Bruce does and I will always be supportive of it.
Thank you for your time and good night!