“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is not just the celebration of a great man’s birthday. It is also a celebration of what we can accomplish when we work together ... when we persist in doing the right thing ... when we do not allow struggle to defeat us.
Little Rock, Arkansas, has a historic place in the civil rights movement that King helped spearhead. The desegregation of Little Rock High School, which began in 1957 with nine African-American students, grabbed headlines and sparked a national crisis. Known as the “Little Rock Nine,” those students wanted simply to receive an equal education. But it required President Eisenhower’s order for federal troops to act as escorts to make it possible for them to attend the school.
The following year, Ernest Green became the school’s first black graduate. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. attended the graduation ceremony.
We have many success stories of children and families overcoming their own struggles in Little Rock, Arkansas. Here, we offer three shining examples ...
The first year that all 50 states officially observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day was in 2000, the same year Alan was born. Now in the seventh grade, Alan tells us that he writes school essays about the great civil-rights leader.
“He did great [things] by bringing whites and African-Americans together,” Alan says.
The boy has been sponsored for more than three years now, and it has made a big difference in his life. Just a few short years ago, Alan was struggling both socially and academically. He had difficulty managing his anger and was behind in school.
“Fractions were rough, and my grades were falling,” Alan told us. His mother, Cynthia, reached out for help, and Alan received tutoring assistance in both math and English, thanks to our Little Rock agency.
“It really brought his grades up,” Cynthia says with a smile.
An energetic teenager, Alan also suffered from behavioral problems that got him in trouble at school on more than one occasion. Without the resources available to him as a result of sponsorship, such as organized sports, nature hikes, canoeing and more, his mother worried about where he’d end up.
Alan is now enrolled in college-prep courses and is continuing his after-school tutoring. Cynthia tells us that she wants Alan to go to college — something neither she nor Alan’s father had a chance to do. Thanks to Alan’s hard work, Cynthia’s dedication and help from the caring staff and volunteers at Children International, college is a dream that is within reach.
When she was born, LaToya’s heart had trouble properly pumping blood. She later needed open-heart surgery to rectify the defect. But no one who knows LaToya, 22, can seriously doubt the strength of her heart now.
LaToya became sponsored when she was 6. It didn’t take her long to discover a unique benefit of our program in Little Rock: Tae Kwon Do classes. This martial arts discipline became a passion — one that taught her about respect and responsibility as it boosted her self-esteem.
In middle school, LaToya became a volunteer instructor for younger sponsored kids wanting to learn Tae Kwon Do. She still practices and teaches twice a week and has even earned a 2nd-degree black belt.
This aspiring (and inspiring) young lady kept very busy throughout middle and high school, becoming a youth leader and eventually serving in an elected position on the agency’s Youth Council.
“The Youth Leadership Council,” says LaToya, “helped me become more organized. I had to plan numerous activities and manage my time effectively. It also helped me be more social. I made tons of friends there.”
LaToya was even chosen as her agency’s representative at the United Nations’ 6th annual Youth Assembly in 2009. In addition to making friends with people from all over the world — several with whom she is still in touch — she spoke eloquently about the numerous programs Children International has to offer and her firsthand experience in benefiting from those programs.
Before her mother passed away last year, she helped LaToya legally establish her own nonprofit organization. Inspired by her experiences with Children International, the organization, called Healing Tiny Hearts With One Big Heart, has grown from a dream to a reality, with partnerships in Arkansas, Missouri and Colorado. Through mentoring and activities, the organization strives to encourage children as young as 3 to dream big and believe in themselves.
LaToya is making her big dreams come true. She got started in college with the assistance of a scholarship through Children International and is currently working on a criminal justice degree.
Nine-year-old Myel has only been in our Little Rock program for just over three years, but he has already proven his determination to take full advantage of the opportunities there. Thanks to an after-school basketball program we offer, Myel has found a positive outlet for his excess energy while getting exercise and making friends.
His mother, Teresa, tells us that he was struggling to keep up in school and that the educational enrichment programs available through Children International have made all the difference. She says the tutoring he received last year, in particular, gave Myel the skills and confidence to start participating in class.
Myel went from falling behind in school to making the honor roll, thanks in large part to the tutoring he received as a benefit of sponsorship.
“He loves math now,” says Teresa, “and loves to show people multiplication problems.” She adds that she is very proud of him making the honor roll and credits the tutoring as playing a crucial role in Myel’s success. “He even received a ‘Citizenship Award’ for good behavior!”