How it all started
My involvement with gifted inner city students began at a homicide scene in South Central Los Angeles. A teenage boy was splayed out on a street corner, with several gunshot wounds to the chest. He died before paramedics arrived. The two detectives could find no wallet and no identification on the boy, so the coroner's investigator called him John Doe Number 27.
A closer inspection of the body revealed an exam on the French Revolution neatly folded in his back pocket. The boy's printing was meticulous, each letter precise and carefully drawn. And every one of the boy's answers on the exam was reasoned, thoughtful, and well written. At the top of the paper the teacher had written a large "A".
John Doe Number 27 was a fifteen-year old boy who attended a junior high school program for gifted students. He was walking home, when a group of gang members in a van stopped him without any apparent reason, shot and killed him.
I had written many stories about gangbangers. I decided I wanted to find a way to write about the other children of South Central, the students who avoid the temptations of the street, who strive for success, who against all odds, in one of America's most impoverished, crime-ridden neighborhoods manage to endure, to prevail, to succeed. I spent a year at a gifted magnet program at Crenshaw High School. I wrote a book about the students in the program.
And Still We Rise: The Trials and Triumphs of Twelve Inner-City Students.
All of the students I wrote about faced tremendous academic disadvantages. Academic disadvantages were the least of their difficulties. I followed the lives of students who lived in foster homes because they were abandoned or abused by their parents. I followed academic achievers, whose only family income was the welfare check, students with fathers or brothers in prison, students who were raised in crumbling housing projects. I wrote about students who were the sons and daughters of maids and crack addicts, street sweepers and street people.
A writer always hopes his words will make a difference. I was lucky enough to have reached readers who understood how unequal the playing field remains even for the most accomplished inner city students. After reading my book, Jim and Trisha London founded South Central Scholars to provide scholarships, internships, and mentors to these students. I am extremely gratified that South Central Scholars has helped so many students attend college, develop to their full potential and achieve their dreams.