The Chester Education Foundation (CEF) and the Chester-Upland School District (CUSD) partnered to present graduates from the 21st CCLC summer program last Thursday featuring Amillion Mayfield, the poet.
Students attended school-to-career and credit recovery summer courses, teaching them how to succeed in life and attain goals. The graduation was held in Community Hospital’s SE conference room.
“This is the best looking, most intelligent group I’ve ever seen,” said Cheryl Cunningham, CEF executive director. “The five weeks you spend here is just the beginning…”
Darius Bond, a student at CUSD’s STEM Academy, posed a question to his fellow classmates.
“Raise your hand if you hate getting up before 5 or 6 A.M.” he asked.
“I can’t wait to go back to school,” shouted a student from the audience.
Shortly thereafter, Dickie Robbins, a Chester pastor, prayed for the students. “Thank you for those who successfully completed the program,” he prayed.
State Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland (D-159) offered convincing remarks of encouragement to the youth. “Thank you for taking the time to reach back,” he said. “You could have said, ‘I give up.’ Always take advantage of a second chance. You are the leaders of today, not tomorrow, so take full advantage of this opportunity because once you get up here,” motioning to his brain, “no one can take it away.”
Chester Mayor John Linder, said, “We always get this bad rap but these are the things that matter. Listen, listen, listen are the keys to success.”
A young poet set the tone for the rest of the ceremony with her powerful poem.
“I’m from a place where whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” said Kaleisha Henson, a spoken word artist.
The keynote address and performance was by L. Mayfield, aka Amillion the Poet, who advocates using poetry as a mental health tool to communicate emotion. Born in poverty in Washington, D.C. and living now in Delaware, Mayfield emerged from the back of the audience saying, “I don’t need you to buy my book, but I need you to pay attention.”
A hush fell over the audience as they listened.
“I’m not a teacher or a preacher. I’m a reacher,” he said. “My life didn’t rhyme so I made Poetry in Motion. I need you to listen. The struggle is real – things that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram doesn’t show.”
“I’ve spoken word in places never spoken before. This isn’t a hobby, this is the reason I might not have a wife. The ghetto is one of a kind, son of a million… ghetto children.”
Even with music video success on MTV and VH1, he says, “People still ask me how I like seeing myself on TV. I tell them I don’t know. I can’t pay my cable bill.”
He asked the audience what they wanted to be when they grow up.
“An engineer,” said one young man. “A dentist,” said another.
“At that age, I said ‘alive’,” said Amillion. “I grew up without a father and started out as a social worker.”
“We’re all living in the ‘hood,” whispered a young man in the audience and a quiet murmur ensued.
“Well, this is what happens when you don’t go to school,” Amillion continued with a rap about getting high, dreaming, becoming a bad creation and asking Mom for money to get drugs.
“Change your state of mind. If you don’t remember anything, have a versatile business and state of mind. The art of hustling – if you can change your game, you’re the smartest person in the bar. Don’t let ‘em put you in a statistic,” he lectured.
Amillion performed an impromptu rap with the chorus, “let me break it down, my car’s breaking down” and involved the audience with “when I say break, ya’ll say down.”
“Sometimes your nightmares keep you alive,” he said.
The closing remarks were presented by two students before the graduation acknowledgements were made.
“I thought, I’m gonna go here and get paid but I learned a lot like how to express myself and be nicer,” said student Raniah Townsend.
The credit recovery group came to the front first with a total of 43 graduates and several taking two or three classes. Widener University students and staff gathered next with accolades from Elaine Greene-Upton, director of the School-to-Career program.
“From when you started to ended, you are different people now,” she said. “I hope to see you in September for the afterschool program.”
Institute of Pitt was up next followed by Leadership Now with teachers in tow. Crozer, Community and Springfield hospital staffs posed together while displaying workforce development.
Robbins closed the ceremony with the benediction that “our commitment will not wane.”
Students, teachers, officials, faculty and parents celebrated with a buffet lunch of green beans, fried chicken, chocolate chip cookies, punch and more.