Her past inspires fu­tures of oth­ers

• Teen author tak­ing a turn as mo­ti­va­tional speaker in HISD

Houston Chronicle - - INSIGHT — NEWS - By XO­CHITL ZU­NIGA FURR HIGH SCHOOL

Hous­ton teen author Bran­da­lyn Gill said she uses her past ex­pe­ri­ences as a boost to help her mo­ti­vate oth­ers.

The author of My Life, the of­fi­cial book of the This is My Life Youth De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram was home­schooled and grad­u­ated at only 15. She also be­came a self-pub­lished author of

My Life, a book she be­gan writ­ing at age 10, a book in­spired by her tu­mul­tuous up­bring­ing.

“I started writ­ing my book when I was 10 years old — de­spite be­ing aban­doned by my mother, and hav­ing a vet­eran fa­ther who ad­mit­ted to me that he was emo­tion­ally un­pre­pared to ac­com­mo­date me.”

Gill be­gan do­ing free mo­ti­va­tional speak­ing in HISD as a part of the national No Bul­ly­ing Cam­paign, which was sparked by the Jamey Rode­meyer in­ci­dent. Rode­meyer, 14, of Buf­falo, N.Y., com­mit­ted sui­cide af­ter be­ing bul­lied over his gay ac­tivism.

Gill speaks strongly about the ef­fects bul­ly­ing can have on a per­son and stresses the im­por­tance of get­ting an ed­u­ca­tion and set­ting goals.

She was con­tacted by HISD Su­per­in­ten­dent Terry Grier in a call-to-ac­tion let­ter that was sent out to HISD com­mu­nity ad­min­is­tra­tors, min­is­te­rial groups and com­mu­nity re­la­tions groups. The let­ter was a list of sta­tis­tics about the per­for­mance of the HISD com­mu­nity. It fo­cused on the 50,000 African-amer­i­can stu­dents’ read­ing and writ­ing achieve­ment gap as well as math per­for­mance on the TAKS and TAAS.

Gill is cur­rently work­ing along­side Grier to raise aware­ness about the alarm­ing numbers of AfricanAme­r­i­can and other mi­nor­ity stu­dents in ele­men­tary and mid­dle schools who can­not read and write.

Grim sta­tis­tics

Sta­tis­tics from the Chil­dren’s De­fense Fund say that 87 per­cent of AfricanAme­r­i­can stu­dents na­tion­wide can­not read up to grade-level stan­dards by eighth grade; 84 per­cent by 12th grade. Grier said 14.4 per­cent of stu­dents drop out of school by their se­nior year.

“That’s when my gears shifted, from not just be­ing a stu­dent, not just be­ing a speaker or an author, but be­com­ing a change for them,” Gill said. “Es­pe­cially af­ter re­ceiv­ing that doc­u­ment. I kind of had to turn around and say ‘hold on, we have to go in this di­rec­tion too’.”

Not only are these per­cent­ages ex­tremely high, there is also very lit­tle be­ing done about them.

“One of the main things my fa­ther en­forced was be­ing pre­pared,” Gill said. “If you can’t read and you can’t write, you won’t be pre­pared. Teach your chil­dren and teach ev­ery­one else around you. I started read­ing early, and to see stu­dents who can­not write and are not pre­pared – to be go­ing out into so­ci­ety and be­ing il­lit­er­ate. There’s no ex­cuse. ”

Thus, the “This is My Life” pro­gram was cre­ated. The pur­pose of this pro­gram is to give stu­dents who are in need of help the op­por­tu­nity to learn by ex­am­ple. To give them the op­por­tu­nity to re­al­ize how much there is to learn and make plans for their fu­tures as well as be­gin on their own jour­ney to reach­ing their dreams.

HISD Board Pres­i­dent Paula Har­ris said “No Place for Hate” is a district-wide pro­gram with the pur­pose of chang­ing the cul­ture of ac­cep­tance. Gill adds to it by com­ing out to mo­ti­vate stu­dents. So far, Gill has toured three dif­fer­ent schools.

‘A role model’

Ac­cord­ing to Har­ris, “Gill has been diplo­matic and she has been a role model.”

Cur­rently, the “This is My Life” pro­gram is fo­cused on help­ing 20 schools that were cho­sen based on neigh­bor­hood need.

“We picked schools like Cullen, Welch, Fon­dren, Yates and Wor­thing be­cause they are hav­ing prob­lems that stu­dents at Bel­laire and La­mar aren’t hav­ing,” Gill said. “I fo­cus on the African-amer­i­can per­spec­tive be­cause it’s the worst, it is the most fright­en­ing and it is the most crim­i­nal.”

A start­ing point to the

to help these stu­dents is pal­pa­ble

Gill book, My Life, has served as a plat­form for the This is My Life pro­gram. The pro­gram fo­cuses on en­cour­ag­ing one an­other in­stead of bul­ly­ing. The goal is to be able to of­fer them the op­por­tu­nity of pub­lish­ing their own nar­ra­tives as a sym­bol of ac­com­plish­ment.

“Be­fore the book was sold out, the stu­dents would start post­ing po­ems and sto­ries that they had read,” Gill said with a smile. “I’m hop­ing that in ad­di­tion to be­ing ex­cited about read­ing they will be ex­cited about writ­ing their own and cul­mi­nat­ing a dream of their own so that every­thing will come into fruition.

“I am pas­sion­ate about this ini­tia­tive be­cause when I leave and they have that ex­am­ple, they want it”, Gill said. “They want the book, they want the pro­gram and they want this change be­cause they know they have it.”

To vol­un­teer, make a do­na­tion or for fur­ther in­for­ma­tion, call 281-546-8168 or link to Gill’s Face­book at www.face­book.com/ groups/ my life my dreams.

“At this point I am plead­ing to work with any­one who has the de­sire and cares pri­mar­ily for those stu­dents who are hav­ing the worst prob­lems,” Gill said. “I stress that it’s not just in HISD, it’s national numbers. It’s all over the coun­try. It’s an epi­demic that needs to be ad­dressed. Most im­por­tantly, we need sup­port here in Hous­ton be­fore we can reach out any­where else.” pro­gram is try­ing to raise aware­ness to peo­ple about the sever­ity of these mind-bog­gling sta­tis­tics. Be­ing a suc­cess­ful young AfricanAme­r­i­can wo­man her­self, it is much eas­ier for the stu­dents to serve as a sort of in­cen­tive to their own hopes and dreams.

“When I go to the schools and talk to the stu­dents they see a young girl dressed in jeans and a T-shirt,” Gill said with a smile. “Some of them won­der what a girl my age can tell them that they don’t al­ready know, and I tell them ‘I’m one of you and I want to share some­thing with you’.”

Gill’s ded­i­ca­tion and pas­sion for this pro­gram is ev­i­dent as you lis­ten to her speak. The deep con­nec­tion she has to­ward try­ing

LOYCE GAYO : I NSIGHT

IN­SPI­RA­TION: Teen au­thor Bran­da­lyn Gill says there is “no ex­cuse” for the com­par­a­tively high il­lit­er­acy rate among mi­nor­ity high school stu­dents.

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