Alumnus Spotlight: Kyare

It wasn’t long ago that we shared Kyare’s college essay, a piece in which he shared the role that Reach played in his maturation. So, consider this Part II.

Kyare ReadingAfter a writing session with support from Reach staff, Kyare felt that he had finished his personal statement. We invited him into the office to share it with the entire team. Though some in the office barely knew him, most were left fighting back tears. This work can be difficult. Kyare’s story reminds us why we work so hard.

Like proud parents, it’s hard for us to imagine why a college wouldn’t accept Kyare, but the competitiveness of the admissions process is real. He did not enter high school as a strong student, but he showed tremendous growth over his four years at Eastern. Who could not be inspired by his incredible improvement and his extraordinary commitment to his community?

We do know, however, that our hopes and beliefs cannot guarantee Kyare admission to college. So, when he sent in his applications, we all waited.

Kyare applied to a number of schools, but he always talked about two – American and Morehouse. Weeks passed and the decision date approached. He got into his first college, but his response was muted. It wasn’t one of the schools he really wanted to attend.

Then, on a Tuesday morning, my phone buzzed to alert me to a text message:

“Mr. Mark, guess what?”

I responded immediately with, “What?!”

And then, of course, minutes passed without a response. The longest minutes ever.

Then: “I got into Morehouse.”

My vision got a bit blurry. I’ll admit it. In a world that sometimes focuses on stats Kyare Leonardand ignores stories, Kyare got into Morehouse. In a world where college can change families, Kyare got into Morehouse. In a world in which fairness doesn’t always win, Kyare got into Morehouse.

Pride doesn’t begin to explain our feelings. Kyare is why we do this.

We are all still waiting to hear about the financial aid available. And, for Kyare, that will play a significant role in determining whether he will be able to attend his dream school. But, no matter what happens, no one will ever be able to take away from Kyare the fact that he got into Morehouse.

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Honesty & Integrity in Evaluation

For the first time, we included the statement below in a grant proposal. This is our effort to proactively define what makes Reach different.


While Reach is strongly committed to achieving the results necessary to secure funding, the organization is equally committed to integrity in the way we collect and communicate program results.

Throughout our history, we have chosen to serve the most challenging students, even when that commitment may make our program outcomes look less impressive.

In the context of today’s testing, all students are organized into four categories: below basic, basic, proficient, and advanced. Schools are judged on how many students they can move to proficient and advanced. For this reason, it makes sense for schools to spend limited resources on moving basic students to proficiency.

At Reach, we are focused on the most challenging work. We intentionally recruit those students who are labeled as below basic, even when we know it may take years to get to proficiency. This is just one way that we choose a standard higher than many others.

Another example is that we measure participant retention from October 1st. Many organizations collect baseline data on November 15th, when the most challenging students have already left – meaning, according to program data, it is as though they never existed. We could improve our retention data by doing the same. We, however, feel it important to count every participant that joins our program.

That is the standard to which we hold ourselves accountable. By doing so, we have lost funding opportunities, yet we remain committed to the most challenging participants, even when this comes at a significant cost.

Reach’s work is slow and messy. It is not linear. Our work requires immense patience in a world that demands immediate returns. Because of our belief in the long-term value of our model, we remain willing to weather the times when program data fails to show significant short-term gains.

At Reach, honesty and integrity drive the way we make decisions. As a young organization, we continue to value the learning derived from all available assessments. When difficult, we will continue to make the hardest decisions, even when we make the path to success more challenging for ourselves.

Each day, in the successes and stories of our young people, we see the positive results of these decisions. Sometimes, it just requires a little patience.

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Black Lives Matter: A.N.T.s


keredding photography

As part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, our Curriculum & Creativity Coordinator created and performed a piece sharing her thoughts. Well received by many, Lori has been invited to perform this piece at various venues across DC and the country.

* Some language in the piece below may be offensive to young readers.

By: Lori Pitts

*   *   *

Have you ever killed a bug? Take a moment to visualize one time that you did. Why did you do it? Because it was about to eat your food? It could bite or sting you. It might come in your house. It just looks gross. I once killed a roly-poly simply because it was big and it scared me.

We’re a very fear-based society. We do a lot of things “just in case” to arm ourselves against potential harm. For example, I prepared two monologues for tonight just in case you don’t like this one. Because if you don’t like it, then you might not like me. And if you don’t like me, then I might not have any more friends. So we prepare.

Just in case.

I once overheard this conversation between a little boy and his mom. They were headed to the car in front of their house. The boy said, “Coooooool, Mom! Look at all these ants!” You could see the excitement on his face…and the fear and disgust on his mom’s. “Squish them before they make it to the house,” she said. The boy protested, “Nooo! They’re just outside.” To which the mom’s response was, “You never know. Just in case.” And there it is again.

Just. In. Case.

This is something we do in our society. It permeates every inch, every decision, every belief we follow. Just in case. We prepare for things that may never happen. We arm ourselves against the unknown.

Let’s say that ants stands for All Negro Teens. So squishing ants, killing black teens, must have some “just in case” reason. Why else would it happen? Kill the A.N.T.s in case they invade our homes—kill them just in case they came from robbing a convenience store. Kill the A.N.T.s in case they bite—kill them because they might be carrying guns. Kill the A.N.T.s because they have too many legs—kill them because they look different from us. Kill the A.N.T.s because they are scary—kill them because they scare me…

Just in case.

But ants are known for their strength. Their teamwork. If you kick an ant pile, ants don’t give up. They start rebuilding immediately. Together.

If there were more movies like A Bugs Life that introduced ants as lovable creatures, I wonder, would there be less fear? If the only two animated Disney films about black people portrayed the characters as people rather than animals, I wonder, would we be less other and less scary?

People try to silence us because of our size and strength. They pile on the shit thinking we’ll be buried. But ants can carry 50 times their own weight. We will throw off their chokeholds and bullets. We will carry the weight of racism and unjust punishments until we have enough ants to throw it off our backs. Far away from here. Far away from our rolling hills and purple mountain majesties.

A.N.T.s are strong. A.N.T.s do matter. Black lives matter.

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“I believe unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

At Reach, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what makes us unique. We’re so proud of the organization we’re building. Something exciting is happening. But, what exactly is the “special sauce” that makes Reach different? Often, you hear educators speak about accountability and rigor. We’re beginning to realize that Reach is built on much different pillars – most notably, unconditionality and love. Through those things, all else is achieved.

We learned this through listening. As always, when trying to find answers to difficult questions, we turned to our teen tutors. When asked to explain what Reach means to them or why it matters to them, we kept hearing the same response: Reach is like a family.

Like every family, we’re not perfect. We get mad at each other. We yell. We apologize. But, aJusna Hugs important, we make permanent commitments. We keep kids safe. We listen. At times, we give rides, provide meals, and pay for clothes. When things get bad, sometimes we’re the first phone call. And we answer.

And yes, we read. But why are teens willing to dig in and improve themselves over the long-term? See above. We promise no quick fixes, but we commit to the journey. The motto is simple: Whatever you need, whenever you need it.

Personally, I keep returning to the thoughts of my friend Neil. When asked what young men of color needed most, he said, “buckets and buckets of love.” We believe it applies to all teens. Neil’s words and my experience have led me to change some of my own boundaries. Recently, I’m much more willing to tell kids I love them, even when I don’t like them.

As Reach grows, I wish for us that we continue to love courageously, patiently, and unconditionally. Because, if there’s one thing I always take away from Dr. King’s existence, it’s his willingness to offer unconditional love, even when difficult. On this day, and all the others, I hope to honor him by doing that.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

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You Gave. We’ll Give.

Last month, we launched a challenge. We challenged you to help us raise $75,000 during the month of December. We’re so proud to announce that we raised $97,080. With your generosity, we will be able to support our programs serving readers and leaders in DC schools.

And, as promised, because you gave, we’ll give. We will donate 1,000 of our teen-authored books to DC kids. We plan to donate half of these books to DC Public School libraries who have the desire, but not the budget, to stock our stories. The remaining books will be donated to school and nonprofit partners.

Your support will allow our programs and our participants to continue growing. And, you will allow us to put engaging, diverse stories into the hands of children across the city. We thank you.

You can see a list of our You Give We Give donors below:

Greta Adler
Leslie Adler
The Advisory Board Company
Flynn & Brit Barrison
Risa Berkower
Reginald & Kathlyn Berry
Kimberly Bohling
Joe Breslin
Charlie & Marie Brown
Gene Burkett
Barb Campbell & Joe Delaney
Capital One
Capitol Hill Comm Fdn
Jennie Carey
Meredith Cheng
Choice Hotels
Andrew & Loretta Cohen
Sarah Comeau
Laurie & Zack Cooper
Peter Cressman
Kathy Crutcher
Chantelle Cunningham
Laura, Rajeev & Kavi Darolia
Laurie Davis & Joseph Sellers
Jason & Suzanne Derr
Monica & David Dixon
Marian Drake
Revi-ruth Enriquez
Paul Erickson
ESR Foundation
Jane & Wally Evans
Fife Family Foundation
Harriet Fink
Bob Fitzmaurice
Debbie & Joe Fletcher
Erin Fletcher
Jade Floyd
Anne & Matt Gialanella
Kate Ginty
Zach Goldman
John Grant
Mary & Richard Grant
Tom & Kate Grant
Donna Hecker
Scott & Beth Hecker
Bob & Genette Henderson
Adam & Rachel Hollowell
Lanae & Mike Holmes
Cathy Hozack
Anoop Jain
Karin Johanson
Amanda Kane
Erna & Michael Kerst
Matt & Kara King
Korn & Miller Family Fdn
Joanne Kurtzberg
Dara La Porte
Catherine Lewis
Tara Libert
Suzanne Lieb
Felix & Jordan Bookey Lloyd
Richard & Nancy Marriott Fdn
Matt Mazur
Linda McDowell
Anne McKenna
Dan McKenna
Nupur Mehta & Laura Feiveson
Taylor Meyer
Bill & Anne Miller
Niki Mock & Phil Leibovitz
Morrison & Foerster Foundation
Dan & Anna Northrup
Jane Obaza
Julie O’Sullivan
Lori Pitts
Dustin & Kristen Pizzo
Laurence Platt & Clare Herington
Nancy Polikoff & Cheryl Swannack
Prep Tutors
Adam Roberts
Debra Roberts
Katrina Rouse
Dianne & Lior Samuelson
TJ & Shae Schneider
Ann & Irwin Sentilles
C. Sierawski & J. Kaufman
Clinton Smith
Kirk Smith
Lina Swislocki
Dan Taylor & Sharie Brown
Bob Tomasko & Brenda Turnbull
Kelly Wardle
Nancy & Bill Wardle
Whispering Bells Foundation
Greg & Caitlin Wyant
Rick Young & Linda Fink
MB & Edna Zale Foundation
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College Essay: Writing My Success Story

Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

As a 12th grade student, Kyare is working on college essays. He chose to write on the prompt above, found in The Common Application. It was wonderful to hear Kyare talk about his Reach experience as something so transformational. We’re incredibly proud of him. We hope you enjoy his words:

“When Sal and Ernie went back to their favorite pond, they did the things they did when they were younger. They felt relieved to have a normal day.”

The young African-AmeriKyare Readingcan author from DC sat down with his recently published book, The Gloomy Light, in front of a group children. As he read, he showed them the pictures that brought his words to life and watched as the children listened eagerly to his funny voices: “The button lies within the statue that flies,” said the Old Wise Monkey in an ancient, raspy voice. As the author finished reading, he introduced himself to the crowd. That author was me. It was a children’s book, but writing it helped me to become an adult.

As a child, I only thought about my friends, my family, and myself. I did not have any responsibilities in the world. I did not realize that my actions could have consequences. As a child, I was not aware that my blackness could influence my life in such a serious way. It was teachers and mentors that taught me that I would need to work harder to avoid the life outcomes experienced by so many black men. And, in the process, I could become a role model.

The most significant factor in my transition from childhood to young adulthood was my participation in a program called Reach Incorporated. Reach is a program through which high school students become elementary school reading tutors. The program helps both the tutor and the student grow. Tutors learn how to be leaders while students learn the basics of reading fluency and comprehension.

Reach tutors can earn promotions based on good work. Both in school and in the program, I showed leadership and dedication to the kids. I also focused on doing the best I could in my classes. Because of my hard work, I was promoted to Lead Tutor and then Junior Staff. Junior Staff is the highest honor Reach gives – only seven people in the entire city ever earned the honor. Earning those promotions taught me the importance of working hard, remaining committed, and doing your best to support others.

As teen tutors, we did not see a lot of diversity in children’s books. We wanted to create new books our students could relate to. In the last two years, I have become a published author of two children’s books, The Gloomy Light and Khalil’s Swagtown Adventure (both available on Amazon). I also had the chance to read my books to groups of elementary school students. After one reading, a young boy came up to me and asked, “Can I make a book too?” I told him, “of course!” In that moment, I realized I had become a role model to the next generation of young people in my community.

During Reach’s summer program, we had the chance to participate in a philanthropy project. Reach gave us $3,000, and we had to give it away. Through this process, we got the chance to learn about other issues in the community. In each of the last two summers, I have learned about organizations that address the issue of youth incarceration. As a child, I did not really think about this issue. But now, I ardently support those helping teens that did not have the same level of support I did.

As an adult, you are responsible for being a leader and role model for people younger than you. You have the opportunity to influence others to achieve more than they thought possible. In Reach, I learned how to be my best self, become a role model, give back to my community, and help others do better for themselves. As I go to college, I know that I will continue to improve myself and my community.

Kyare LeonardWhen I entered high school, I was satisfied being average. Through participating in Reach, I learned to become responsible and to challenge myself. My GPA has improved each year, and I now take IB and AP classes – in 11th grade, I was even the IB Student of the Year! Reach showed me what I could be. When I am in college, I hope to come back to see the students I once tutored. I want them to see me as a leader and a role model. By seeing me – now a responsible adult – I want them to see what they can be.

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For Our Kids

By Jusna Perrin, a member of the Reach team and a true advocate for kids.

I realize there’s no right time to express my feelings. They ebb and flow, for sanity’s sake.

To be Black in America, is to be in a constant state of rage. – James Baldwin

I have to let you know why I do this work. It’s personal. I have to let you know why I’m angry. It’s personal.

If you’re silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.
– Zora Neale Hurston

I look in the mirror and see Black. I look at you and see Black. Even those who may not be of the African diaspora, who am I to say that your pain is any different than mine?  This world has not been kind to any of us.

Here is a fruit, for the crows to pluck/For the rain to gather/
For the wind to suck/For the sun to rot/For the tree to drop/
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
  – Billie Holiday, Strange Fruit

I marched tonight, with a fist raised. I walked past honking cars and blank faces. I thought of you kids. Tears come when I realize the next time I march may be for you, strange fruit.

Black Lives Matter.

I’m frustrated by apathy. I walk. I yell. I wonder how people quietly walk past us. Is black pain white noise? I wonder about the people I grew up with. Why is silence the norm? I wonder why friends aren’t by my side. Why does this work feel so lonely?

There are moments when I want to dismiss the evidence. Trust that the system captured US fairly. I get it, America. It’s easier that way. But snapshots suck. Especially when you don’t pose right.

I’m female. I’m Black. I’m an educator. The work of our foremothers and forefathers runs through my blood like the gravity that keeps me grounded. Our grandparents fought. Our parents broke glass ceilings. We forget this Movement is young. These hashtags feel provisional.

I want to organize. Protest. Make noise. Create change. Influence. Discover empathy in others.

But I don’t know what I want to say to you. I don’t know how to make sense of the senseless. How to justify injustice. How to create a world where you and I feel safe.

I wrestle to free you of this weight. I don’t want you to carry it. As I look for leaders, I realize you may be looking for me.

So I have to speak. I can’t be silent. They won’t say I enjoyed this.

They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds. – Mexican Proverb

We are here. We matter.

And you are worth the rage.

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Dear Young Lady

Young Lady,

I won’t share your name, but we both know it. And, even if no one else ever learns I’m speaking to you, I need you to know what I think of you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about heroes. In the last couple weeks, I met Bryan Stevenson. I listened to Father G. But, more than anything, I spent time with you. You’re my hero. Seriously.

I need you to know what you taught me.

You taught me how to ask for help. Even when extraordinarily complicated, you reached out. You bravely requested help when it was hard. You showed courage that could have been so easily quieted. You turned battery into bravery.

You taught me vulnerability. We cried. Maybe not together. You didn’t see me cry, but I did…with you. I tried to be strong for you like you’ve been strong for others. Once you were gone, my tears streamed. You honestly admit confusion in a way that so many adults can’t. You showed me strength can be sad.

You taught me strength. You don’t know this. You won’t for years. When I complain, I think of you. When I want to be sad, I think of your smile. When I want to quit, you keep me going. As I told you once, I want to be you when I grow up.

You think of me as the leader. But, you’re wrong. You are. I just get to watch.

You’re a teenager. There’s nothing more I want to give you than the right to be a teenager. I wish I could take all the difficulty away. Unfortunately, I can’t. You’ve dealt with things I can’t understand. You taught me things you’ll never understand.

I do this work for you. I do this because of you. I do this because of who you will be.

You say you want to be a social worker. I can’t wait to meet the kids that will meet you. Those kids don’t yet know how lucky they’ll be. But, already, I do.

With more respect than you can know,
Mr. Mark

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What Charlie Said.

Recently, I attended an event for Free Minds Book Club. Each month, Free Minds hosts a night where volunteers review and respond to poetry written by incarcerated youth. The volunteers’ comments are then sent back to the young people, showing them that their voice continues to matter. Returned members have spoken often about the importance of getting these comments – they serve as a lifeline during extraordinarily dark times.

At these events, volunteers always hear from Poet Ambassadors – young people who have returned home after serving time. These returned members now teach workshops and speak in the community to lift up poetry as a tool for peacemaking and community building. At the last Write Night, Charlie spoke:

“When I got home from lock up, I did the same thing I was doing before. I spent the first month sitting on the stoop until one day I noticed I was surrounded by crack heads and khakis (kids that had been sent home from school that day). I realized I needed to do something different, so I called [Free Minds Executive Director] Tara.

Tara told me to meet her at Ballou the next day. They were doing an On The Same Page event (when returned members speak to students). I did that one, and I’ve been doing them ever since.”

That day at Ballou, Charlie spoke to Reach’s tutors. He and other Free Minds members spoke of their experiences and shared poetry. Tara had warned me that Charlie was new – she didn’t know what would happen when his turn came. But he stood confident, read some poetry, and – in that moment – started creating a new life for himself.

Charlie is doing very well, despite the obstacles faced by those with felonies. He’s now a proud father and a supportive uncle. He’s helping other young men as they transition back to the community. I couldn’t help but feel proud of him.

After he finished speaking, I approached him to tell him that the event he spoke about was an event with my kids. I told him how excited I was that his experience speaking to our tutors impacted him so positively. He said something more simple, elegant, and profound than I could have ever written:

Well, then thank you for being there so I could be there.

There’s a dignity that comes from giving, a recognition of humanity that comes from mattering to another person.  In the end, that’s what we want every one of our young people to experience. We just want to be there so they can be there.


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New Partnership: Beacon House

In the last few weeks, something exciting happened – we quietly launched our fifth program site. This new site presents a particularly unique opportunity for Reach to learn about the efficacy of our model in a new setting. Why? Because, for the first time, we have launched a program outside a school setting.

Beacon House is a community-based organization that provides a variety of programs for young people living in and around Edgewood Terrace, a housing community in Northeast DC. We were approached about partnering with them to train participants in their teen program to work with younger students in their after-school tutoring program.

Intrigued, we had to decide whether this kind of arrangement was something we would consider. We turned immediately to Reach’s Core Values – one of our stated values is that learning is a process that never ends. Would Reach work in a non-school setting? We saw a lot of value in learning the answer to that question, so we decided to give it a try.

MoziqueLast week, we enrolled ten teen tutors at Beacon House. These teens come from four different DC schools – two traditional public schools, one charter school, and one parochial school. If we discover – as we expect – that Reach’s model works outside a school setting, it would allow the organization to reconsider one of the biggest barriers to our growth, geography. To this point, we can only work with students who attend high schools and elementary schools in close proximity. That could change.

We have a wonderful opportunity to work with a new group of young people. Additionally, we have the chance to learn whether our approach works in a non-school setting. We are very excited about both.

And one more thing…

At our school sites, we partner with teachers to provide extra support during tutoring sessions. At a non-school site, no such teachers exist, so we needed to find two Classroom Assistants to support our Program Instructor, Ms. Quilla.

Edgewood Terrace, where Beacon House is located, is just blocks from Trinity Washington University. Below, on the left, is a picture from Reach’s first ever tutoring session at Perry Street Prep (Fall 2010). Both of those young women are now first year students at Trinity. So, in one of the proudest moments of Reach’s history, we hired them. Welcome to the team, Chynna and Joyce!

Chynna Joyce 2

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