The December City Impact Lab was held at the National Health Foundation’s new recuperative care center. Our speakers were Harry Grammer, President and Founder of New Earth and an Obama Fellow, and Kelly Bruno, President and CEO of National Health Foundation. Here’s a snapshot of what they had to share with us…
Being here in the rain today reminds me of 15 years ago when that rain was peltering against my tent. That was the year I spent homeless. I grew up in the South side of Chicago. I spent five years on juvenile probation. I was a teenage father. I was a dropout. While being homeless in 2002, I began to reflect on my life and what it is I wanted to give to the world.
I realized I wanted to work with young people that were going through the same struggles I went through. But I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know how to do that. The only thing that I really knew how to do really well at that time was write poetry. So I thought maybe if I go and work with a few kids to tell their stories, because poetry had helped me so much when I was homeless, helped me so much when I was a youth, that maybe I could do something that would help and bring hope and love into their lives.
I started an open mic in my community because I wanted a place where people could come, my community could come and we could begin to talk about the issues that are happening in our community. Well that grew pretty quickly. We created a small program called Flow in 2003 to offer at foster care group homes and Camp Gonzales Youth Detention Facility. I didn’t know that so many young people that were incarcerated gang members would fall in love with telling their story through rhyme. Quickly, we had the most popular program inside of Camp Gonzales Youth Detention Facility…
I grew up watching Mr. Rogers, who would end every show saying, “you made today a special day, just by being you. There’s nobody in the world that’s just like you and I like you just the way you are. When I grew up, that wasn’t necessarily the message that I always received.
My hair was not appropriate. If your hair moves it’s too long, not professional. I wore too much makeup. My clothes were inappropriate. The education that I had was not okay. I went to Cal State Long Beach. “What’s that?” They sent me to get a certificate at Stanford, because that would look better. I cut my hair. I wore navy blue almost every day. That was the mold they told me I needed to fit to be the CEO of National Health Foundation.
I dotted all those I(s) and crossed all those T(s) and moved in and I failed miserably. Because I wasn’t me. It took awhile but I started to revert to who I was. That’s the story I want to share with you today…
Our thanks to National Health Foundation for hosting this City Impact Lab, and we look forward to seeing you all at our next monthly breakfast!