Detroit non-profit All Four One wants more students to go to college. That may sound easy. However, when you look closer, it’s clearer that they have bitten off quite a task. The group’s Youth Council Roundtable is working for higher graduation rates, youth employment, civic engagement and college admission and retention.
Recently at Wayne State University’s (WSU) student center, a group of about 50 young people from Cody Academy of Public Leadership gathered to have a very real discussion about where they are, where they would like to be and the challenges they face every day in trying to attend and stay in college.
One of the big challenges for kids everywhere is having the resources and entrance exam test scores to even make it onto campus. And in Detroit, the challenges are sometimes even greater.
According to a Skillman Foundation/Data Driven Detroit report (State of the Detroit Child 2012), “In spring 2012, 1.6 percent of Detroit 11th graders—just 80 students—scored a college-ready 21 or higher on the ACT. On average, Detroit students score in the 13s, 14s, 15s, and 16s out of 36 on ACT subject tests.”
All Four One founder Ishmail Terry and his wife Angela, along with other motivators from the community spent time listening, answering questions about college life and letting the kids talk. Angela Terry describes it as giving them a, “platform to say what is important to them.” Founded in 2007, the group works with young people in Detroit and throughout Southeast Michigan.
Ishmail is from “the streets” as he puts it, growing up in the Dexter/Davison area of the city. He got into his share of trouble early on as a member of the infamous Young Boys Inc. gang.
“I felt like whatever I wanted I was gonna get it. If that meant hurting you in the process, so be it,” he said, describing his mentality back then to the kids gathered.
While mostly occupied by what he was involved in on the streets, he also showed promise in sports. As an all-city and all-state basketball player, he had potential, but lacked direction. He credits people along the way with reaching out to him and literally pulling him out of his surroundings and changing his perspective. That is part of the reason he is helping out kids today. He says that if it wasn’t for other people caring and holding him accountable for his actions, he doesn’t know where he might be today.
He played hoops at Alabama State University, but then got into a fight that cost him his scholarship. He ended up back in the neighborhood and eventually ended up working at a Chuck E. Cheese’s as the guy in the suit. “There I was, working in the big mouse suit all day after all of the opportunity I had, it was humbling.”
While working in the restaurant, a customer came up to him one day and encouraged him to do much more with his life. He would eventually turn things around and ended up getting a second chance to play at Oakland Community College, Eastern Michigan University and also played professionally overseas.
He blew out his knee in 2004, ending his playing career, but igniting his passion for helping kids. That led to the founding of All Four One and to the creation of the Youth Councils, which are held each year.
While Ishmail shared his story, you could see the impact it was having on the 50 young people in the audience. “I always said whatever I wanted I was going to get it. Now, I know education is the way to make that happen,” he told the kids.
“The most important thing is having a dream,” said State Senator Coleman Young, Jr. He addressed the group briefly and then spent a while just answering questions. “Our job as legislators is not to just fund education. We need to make sure you succeed,” he said.
During a discussion period, one student pointed out the importance of increasing funding for college hopefuls. “If we can’t get funding, how can we hope to go to college?” he asked.
State Senator Coleman said it costs the state more than $35,000 a year to incarcerate a person. If that money was directed at education, how much of a difference could that make?
Opportunities and influences can make the difference for many of these young people. Student Donniqua pointed out that, “It’s easy for a drug dealer to get some of us. Some kids come from families where they don’t care what happens to them. When a drug dealer shows up in the neighborhood and offers some new shoes or new gear, they start reeling them in.”
Daniel Winston is an admissions director at WSU from the same Dexter and Davison neighborhood as Ishmail. He talked to the kids about how to be successful, once they get on campus. “One of the quickest ways to fail in college is to not ask for help. Sometime not finishing college is not because you’re not smart, it’s because you don’t ask for help,” he said.
Ruby Griggs is a college transitions advisor at Cody who brought the group to campus for the event. “This is really valuable for our students. It exposes them to possibilities and challenges them on what they need to do to get prepared to go to and finish college,” he said.
Torrianna, a junior at Cody who wants to someday be a counselor and psychologist was glad she came.
“This really helped clear up confusion I had about going from high school to college,” she said. She is also a part of All Four One’s program throughout the year with Ishmail and Angela.