Essential2Life is all about getting urban youth in Atlanta to take on the burden of leadership in their community. Education, of course, is all part of the equation, as is offering kids adult role models in leadership and entrepreneurship. We were happy to be part of the solution for this underserved population by way of a small grant. Kars4Kids spoke to Executive Director of Essential2Life Darrick Graham, to learn more about this work:
Kars4Kids: Why do you call your flagship program “FIFTEEN?”
Darrick Graham: The program is called FIFTEEN because we typically identify sophomore students aged 15 as our natural participants in this program. We serve teenagers that age because it is the time in life where life decisions are made that could drastically change a student’s future.
Kars4Kids: Essential2Life has a 100 percent high school graduation rate. That’s unbelievable. To what do you attribute the success of your program?
Darrick Graham: Supportive adult relationships. Students face many challenges and our staff are dedicated to finding solutions for all our students’ problems.
Kars4Kids: Why is growing up in the city fraught with so many difficulties?
Darrick Graham: For all its opportunities, the city does not distribute resources and access to those resources equally. Just recently a 2019 demographic study by Bleakly Advisory Group for APS Master Planning released a startling statistic. The average student attending North Atlanta or Grady High Schools in Atlanta lives in a single-family home with the average worth of more than $600K. The average student attending Douglas, Carver, Washington or South Atlanta High Schools, on the other hand, lives in a single-family home with the a home worth of just $35K.
Kars4Kids: What is “visioning” and why is it a “life skill?”
Darrick Graham: Hopelessness is the most monumental obstacle that our students face. The ability to see a future and to create a path for a successful future is a life skill that our students do not always naturally possess.
Kars4Kids: Can you tell us some of the guest speakers you have hosted?
Darrick Graham: Mia Harden of Mia Harden Creative, Brett Duke, Joshua Dickerson of Joshua Dickerson Speaks, and Publicist and Media Consultant Retonjah Burdette to name a few.
Kars4Kids: What is a “servant-leader?” Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?
Darrick Graham: All leaders are called to serve. Leaders are called to give more than they are called to receive. History has proved time and again that those leaders that sacrifice have proved to impact society in the most monumental ways. We quote Gandhi and King several times throughout our curriculum with our students, as evidence that leadership comes with incredible sacrifice and work. Servant-Leadership is the highest form of service that is dedicated to community.
Kars4Kids: You serve the “cream of the margin.” Can you explain what that means?
Darrick Graham: The cream of the margin are students that are oftentimes overlooked. They are the students that aren’t at the top of the class or at the bottom either. They are the students that, with just a little attention, focused individual path planning, and access to resources, can have incredible futures.
Kars4Kids: What role do volunteers play in your organization? How many people currently volunteer with Essential2Life? Volunteers are the caring, supportive adults that provide the premier support in our organization. Our staff is small and we could not provide our biweekly workshops, take students on trips or even serve breakfast and lunch without them. We currently have 7 board volunteers and 12 program volunteers, 19 in all.
Kars4Kids: The students in your program are guided toward “access to debt-free post-secondary education.” How many students are you helping? How many of them manage to get full scholarships or otherwise receive full coverage for the full amount of their tuition as a result of your help?
Darrick Graham: We had 27 students in the class of 2019 and in currently have 25 in the class of 2020. All of the students go through a process to identify the post-secondary options that will ensure access to debt free post-secondary education. All students are prepared for and encouraged to participate in dual enrollment during their junior and senior years. This gives students access to college level courses without incurring any costs. One of our 2018 graduates graduated with his associate degree from Atlanta Metropolitan College before he graduated from high school.
Kars4Kids: What’s next for Essential2Life?
Darrick Graham: Last year we had to turn away 60 students who applied to get into our Leadership Program. We are hoping to increase our funding over the next year to ensure that we start two sophomore classes simultaneously, therefore serving more of Atlanta’s youth.