Invariably, when the high school drop-out rate is discussed in this country, Detroit’s disturbing graduation rate is the one most often cited in the worst-case-scenario category. At-risk and underprivileged have almost become synonymous with Detroit youth. Throw in the harsh reality that the reduction in government funding to youth programs and nonprofit organizations who address the quality of life for urban teens and the fact that assistance for families is disappearing, and the current outlook dims.
But what if there was a private program, independent of government funding and the accompanying red tape, available for 30 street-savvy, problematic kids that implements a comprehensive, 28-day training in scholarly pursuit and physical development, or as the Latins say, “En sano En mano,” translation “Health in Mind, Health in Body?” According to Brook Ellis, co-founder of the Reginald F. Lewis Summer Reading Academy, there is such a program, and it emphasizes a strict code of conduct component.
“The Summer Reading Academy is to dismantle the schools-to-prison pipeline and close the literacy divide. … Documented research shows that the schools-to-prison pipeline is disproportionately populated with 9th and 10th grade boys of color from single-parent households,” explains Ellis.
Ellis, a former inmate, was incarcerated for 151 months in federal prison for a bank robbery conviction. During that period, he became an avid reader and credits Reginald Lewis’ autobiography, Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun, with turning his life around.
“I sent that book to my son, Damion, to read from prison. He was a behavioral nightmare and solidly tracked on the schools-to-prison pipeline in the eighth grade. He read that book … and he, along with his friend, Jelani Karamoko, transformed from prison fodder to scholastic superstars,” beams Ellis.
“The Lewis family’s commitment is contagious, and our incubator will produce scholars who personify the Reginald Francis Lewis ethos, ‘Pay the price and keep going no matter what,’” continues Ellis. Loida Lewis, widow of the legendary businessman, philanthropist and first black billionaire Reginald Lewis, is a co-developer of the program and requires that all partners agree to a three-year funding commitment.
“Our graduates will embody the R.F.L. creed of Health, Excellence, Rules and Order, aka. HERO. This scales the legacy to a new platform. A live force of Reginald F. Lewis academic militia, on patrol and equipped to depopulate the school-to-prison pipeline, one city at a time,” concludes Ellis.