Coming up in Compton, California and South Central, Los Angeles, education was still viewed as a way out of poverty. My mother Juanita Smith, and my father Johnnie Will Smith, would accept nothing short of an excellent educational experience for me, as well as my brother Dave ("Donnie") D. Harris, and my sister Mara ("Montie") Lamont Hoskins. They pushed us, to do better and to have more than they had. They pushed us, to "be more."
I remember (with help from my sister Montie) how mom quite her job early in my childhood so that she could spend more time with me. But she did not quite her job and simply sit around the house with me. Ms. Juanita Smith opened her own daycare business, taking care of me for free (actually now, being paid for the pleasure) and other neighborhood children for a modest fee.
I remember how my mom later on, when laid off temporarily from McDonald Douglas Aircraft (now Boeing Aircraft), went to work at my elementary school, working in janitorial at first until she moved herself up in the ranks, clearly over qualified, simply so that she could be closer to me and to insure that I was receiving a quality education in a public school.
I remember when my father told me he wanted me to go to a private school, and allocated all the disposable income he had left to make that dream happen when I was a teenager.
I remember all of these experiences, but most of all I remember my classroom environment, first at Colin P. Kelley Elementary School, and later Whaley Jr. High School, both in Compton, California. I remember that there were about 35 kids in every classroom, and of those there were about 30 kids who wanted to learn, and maybe 5 kids acting out like knuckleheads.
Today, go into any urban classroom in America and what you see are still classrooms with about 35 kids, but today, thirty kids are acting like knuckleheads, and maybe 5 kids are sitting there, ashamed to admit that they want to learn. Well, I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing wrong with these kids. Nothing. They have simply been hijacked by "thug culture."
My friend, mentor and our 5MK national co-chairman, musical icon Quincy Jones, says that "it takes 20 years to change a culture." I agree with this, and over the past 20 years "we have made dumb sexy. We have dumbed down, and celebrated it. …And we need to make 'smart sexy again.'" This is my mission, mandate, and our calling at Operation HOPE, with our 5MK (5 MILLION KIDS) initiative.
Why are you the success story that you are today? Why are you a professional, teacher, banker, business person or whatever? Because you "saw" someone doing it. We simply need to give our kids something different to see.
Author Malcolm Gladwell, whom I greatly respect, author of amongst other things THE TIPPING POINT, says that "at 5% role models every community stabilizes." Not 80% role models, or 50% role models, or even 20% or 10% role models. All of that is tough, if not seemingly impossible. But at 5% role models, any community stabilizes. That's all it takes, and that is doable.
The problem is, the active role model level in urban, inner city and under-served communities is 3.7% or less. It is simply "too thin." And so, a kid suffers because "it's what they don't know that they don't know, that's killing them." But we think we know.
Join me in this movement. Make a 5% Pledge at 5 MILLION KIDS, committing 1 hour a month, 12 months out of the year, or 12 hours a year, to help us take our communities back, and to "make smart sexy again."
For those making a pledge, we will profile your efforts, dedicating space on the 5MK website to tell the world of your Love Leadership Commitment. And once you complete your pledge, you can count on receiving a beautiful certificate of completion from HOPE and 5MK, signed by icons Ambassador Andrew Young and Quincy Jones, along with myself.
Be the change we want to see in our world, and remember, "watch how you live your life. It may be the only Bible that anyone else reads."
Watch the video, and pass it on. Let me know what you think.
Onward with HOPE
John Hope Bryant
John Hope Bryant is founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE, bestselling author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), and a member of the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for President Barack Obama