Spread your wings. Be a risktaker. When Astronaut Leland Melvin called one afternoon, leading Obama’s Summer of Innovation, I thought, If I don’t take this step right now, when will I ever have this opportunity? That was how From One Hand to AnOTHER (FOHTA) began: I told him, “If you partner with us, Virginia Beach will have a program representing Obama’s initiative.” We didn’t have kids, we didn’t have a place—there was nothing. But the primary goal for me is and always has been to be the medium through which Pharrell is able to bring his vision to fruition.
So, with my own love of learning and experience as a lifelong educator, I gathered a group of kids. FOHTA—Pharrell’s educational initiative before YELLOW—not only provided encouragement but also exposed each child to various opportunities, reinforcing skills to prevent summer slide. The camp was always first come first served, with Pharrell supporting fundraising so sites were open to all with no charge. With an array of project-based lessons, activities, fieldtrips, guest speakers, collaborators, and sponsors, this was the place to be.
Not many kids we serve get to experience hands-on interactions with NASA. However, a group of our kids visited the Air and Space museum and even talked to the astronauts in the International Space Station. As the camps spread to more cities and partners, students participated in programs with EVERFI to learn computer and financial literacy, made advertisements with Partnership for a Healthier America to learn about nutrition, and went fishing with the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Department program to learn more about marine life in the Atlantic Ocean. These were kids who never ventured outside their projects except to go to school or the grocery store. They may never get to see Mt. Trashmore or the oceanfront even if it’s just twenty minutes away. With FOHTA, they had the opportunity to shine.
From the beginning, FOHTA’s mission was to change the world one child at a time. There’s the chance that each child could change the world—but their chances are not even. Economic, social, nutritional, emotional and educational odds prevent the spreading of wings, stifle the spirit of the risktaker, and above all else, feed the negative voice in our heads. For countless youth, a second chance never comes—unless there’s an opportunity to “EVEN the ODDS.”
All flowers bloom, they just don’t all bloom at the same time.
That’s what we do: we key in on students’ strengths to get them motivated and, once they’re motivated, we encourage them to reach their full potential. I have this saying, “All flowers bloom, they just don’t all bloom at the same time.” So for each student, we figure out how they learn best and then help with what is difficult. By the time we finish, we’ve given them the opportunity to be whoever they want to be. This doesn’t mean they become superhuman, but it does mean they’ve discovered their possibility, feel good about themselves, and have the tools and resources to improve what they need to improve. And if there’s more to do, they know how to do more, and always pay it forward. They have agency to create the future.
We ended up having kids coming back in high school to volunteer in the camps because the opportunities at FOHTA meant so much to them. Year after year, parents and grandparents thanked us for how our programs changed their children’s lives. One military man from Georgia said his son had been really quiet, but by the end of the summer he was a different person. After the fishing trip, a teenage volunteer decided to major in marine biology. I remember a grandmother in Cape Canavarel waited in a long line to tell me that every day after camp her grandson told her what he’d learned, that he’d particularly liked dissecting frogs, and that he’d decided he wanted to go to school to be a doctor. After over ten years of organizing and contributing to camps, I have so many stories.
Once kids have been given the opportunity, once the excuses have been taken away and they find their motivation, that motivation will drive them to go further, to do more, and to reach back and pull somebody else up. By lifting up one, you lift up a community. That’s how YELLOW will change the world: one child at a time.
These stories, though, happened in a normal time. Now, with the pandemic, numerous kids don’t even have food or the opportunity to learn the way that they learn best. The universe has forced people to slow down and really evaluate education, to make necessary changes because otherwise there will be a continuation of damage and devastation. It has put a magnifying glass on our social systems and given people the ammunition, the courage, and ample time to address things like “remedial” that should have been changed long ago.
These stories also inspired and fueled us, so we decided to do more and to go bigger. We created YELLOW to address educationally and in the community some key parts of this change. Alone, we’re not the answer—but when several groups come together in kindred spirit to address a common goal, it does get addressed. Change may not happen in one setting or in a short time, but it will take place. So I’m looking forward to YELLOW being part of revolutionizing education—and education is just one component, because once people get educated this knowledge spills over into other areas of their lives.
Pharrell’s vision for revolutionizing education is all about the kids, the other person, and humanity. Through empathy and relationships, YELLOW will “EVEN the ODDS” for every child. Once kids have been given the opportunity, once the excuses have been taken away and they find their motivation, that motivation will drive them to go further, to do more, and to reach back and pull somebody else up. Like crabs in a pot, each youth can hold onto another, who holds onto another. By lifting up one, you lift up a community. That’s how YELLOW will change the world: one child at a time.