On June 10th, two of our students from TC Williams High School were invited to speak at the National Education Forum by David Mineta, the Deputy Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

14 June 2014 | News

This is the second time within three weeks that Mentor Foundation USA and our students have been invited to perform at the White House. These students have worked for months with poet and educator Joseph Green to develop a series of poems that express their thoughts and personal testimonies regarding drug and substance use.

After an incredible performance at the ONDCP the students were invited to share their inspirational slam poems with the Education Forum with a special introduction by the Deputy Secretary of Education. When asked what the students hoped would come out of this they said “I hope that the people making policy about our lives are listening and that our words help guide them.” They want to make it clear that youth want to take part in the discussions that affect their lives. Patrick Ennlis, one of our student poets, reflected: “I think they are really listening, that this is not just for show, but they hear us and want to do something with what we say.”

Joseph Green has worked for months, guiding them through the writing process and all the way to the White House, twice! He has excelled in his role as a mentor while balancing life as a father to a young son. I sat down with Joseph to get his reflections of the day and how his work with these students motivates him as a father.

“Watching the students perform gives me the same swell of pride in my chest as watching my son take his first steps. I get excited seeing that hard work and dedication pay off. It is exciting because of a limitless world of possibilities and options has opened up for these students thanks to their courage. I can’t wait to see where they go from here.”

Joseph says that his work as a mentor  fuels and motivates him as a father. ” I work hard to bring out all of their emotions and help them express how they feel. I hear their thoughts about their fathers and it reveals things I swear to never do as a father. I value my time working as a teacher and a mentor to students because it teaches me something new everyday.”

When asked what his biggest take away from this process and the success has been, he gave an incredibly fitting answer.

“Courage under fire. It takes an amazing level of guts and courage to stand up to your peers. These students are constantly bombarded with negative influences saying that  “it” [drugs] will make them popular. They stand up and make their voices heard not only to their peers, but also to the leaders making the policy that affects their lives. That is courage under fire.”

Read the poem that the students shared with the National Education Forum below and show your support by sharing this story.

We all want to be part of a community, to belong, to feel loved

to go to school and just learn.

Drive 100 yards past my school at 3:25 any day of the week,

You are likely to see seven or eight high school kids talking and smoking.

Travel a couple miles down and in a basement you will find

a parent far too young for wisdom, exposing a child

far too young to discern the realness of this danger

from the predators her health teacher warned her about.

It’s not because they don’t know better.  Not because they weren’t properly reached

by Venn diagrams; photos of biopsied cancerous lungs, or videos of not so elderly survivors speaking through the vibrations and regret lodged in hole left gapping in their throats.

We were as bright as potential once.

In elementary school my peers and I turned a blind eye to drugs and the baser things in life.  We sought adventure and escape in Pokémon cards and Cartoon network.

We grew up way too fast, Or rather the world around us did.

We went from children to consumers at the speed of commerce.

We went from our parents pride and joy to their obligation and responsibility.

From the creators of the future to the self-destructors of right now

From not having a care in the world to every decision we make permanently effecting our tomorrows

And you want to know how drugs and alcohol effect our school life?

How are we supposed to concentrate in school when drugs and alcohol are all around us?

I see my friends doing it all the time.  Cloaked in denial and weed smoke.  Swearing it isn’t a gate way drug as they begin to fall deeper and deeper in with each experiment.

Who can blame us?

All our heroes did drugs and changed the world and never had problem, right?

I mean look at Jimmy Hendrix and Hemingway and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Brittany Murphy and Michael Jackson and so on and so on.

You would think that in school we would be taught about the faults in our stars instead we begin to idolize and mimic.

But if stars are just merely the remaining light of dead suns why does the world teach children to want to burn out so quickly?

Why does every song on the radio tell me that all my problems can be solved by a zip and a double cup?

Why does every commercial tell me that there is a prescription for everything that ails me in this reality?

For every one voice we hear telling us drugs and alcohol can lead to addiction and ruin lives

There are 100 telling us that it’s fine

No. Better than fine. Fun.

A little party never killed nobody!?!?

And you want to know how drugs and alcohol effect our school life?

They’re everywhere.

In every locker.  Every IPod.  Every recap of every show and movie.

The positive influence are losing because they wear suits and ties,

not J’s and skinny jeans.

And when the stress overwhelms and we take a puff

we are persecuted and sentenced

If we were never taught any other way to cope

is it just to punish us?

When more money goes into jails

then into prevention

is it just to punish us?

When parents are too busy or too young or too out-of-touch to reach us

is it just to punish us?

We are not just passing the blame along

Pretending as if there was ever a time

Where students saw school as more

then an obligation

But we are not inherently lazy or

Just prone to self-destruction and bad behavior

We are not just the face of the problem

We are standing asking to be the face of the solution

But we need your help

Because we all want to be part of a community

to belong

to feel loved

to go to school and just learn

That’s why it is heart breaking to be around so much wasted potential.  But we refuse to believe that our generation is so lost in these bad habits that they cannot be turned around

It’s our responsibility, yours and mine, to show them that they can be part of a community without drug-fuelled self-destruction. We need to give them a chance to change themselves. That’s the only way they’ll find a true calling

beyond addiction

beyond broken homes

beyond court case, skipped classes, and swindled potential

and into a future as bright as we once were