Daughters Love for Dresses Inspires Author-Therapist’s New Book

Tameka’s New Dress is a visual tale of loss, hope, and female empowerment. Tameka’s dress is her cloak, an impenetrable force field that shields her from past trauma and bullying.

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Click here to order a copy of Tameka’s New Dress. Add the Tameka’s New Dress filter to your photos by downloading the Nelson Beats the Odds Comic Creator app from the App Store.

Best-selling author Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW was inspired to tell the story behind Tameka’s beautiful dress by his two daughters. “Morgan and Mali transform into queens every time they put on a new dress,” explains Sidney, “All they want to do is twirl around in circles and smile.”

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Tameka’s New Dress is a visual tale of loss, hope, and female empowerment. Tameka’s dress is her cloak, an impenetrable force field that shields her from past trauma and bullying. The dress gives Tameka the ability to love unconditionally without the fear of being hurt. This blog will explore three major themes from Tameka’s New Dress, colorism, bullying and grandfamilies.

Tameka, a gifted Kemet Middle School student, is accused of pushing another student in the hallway. When Mrs. Lopez, Tameka’s principal, mentions to Tameka that she may be suspended, Tameka starts to panic. Tameka’s fear stems from the abuse and neglect she experiences at home.

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One of Traci Van Wagoner most aesthetically pleasing illustrations show Tameka holding the fabric for her new dress, visualizing herself as warrior queens Nefertiti, Nzinga and Nandi. Tameka’s grandmother uses the African wax cloth to sew her a new dress after she comes home from school crying. Tameka’s grandmother, a true alchemist, turns lemons into lemonade by sewing Tameka a new dress.

Throughout Tameka’s New Dress you will find references to Queen Nefertiti. Queen Nefertiti is the wife of the of one of the most famous pharaohs of acient Kemet, Akhenaten. The two began a religious revolution in Kemet, or Ancient Egypt, that influenced contemporary religions like Christianity and Judaism. After Nefertiti’s husband died, scholars believe she ruled Kemet as Neferneferuaten.

On the very next page is an illustration symbolizing the rising of a phoenix. In Kemet, or Ancient Egypt, the phoenix originated as the Bennu. Greek historian, Herodotus, said the Bennu came from Arabia every 500 years. Before the phoenix dies, it builds a nest of cinnamon twigs, lays down it and dies. A new phoenix rises out of the ashes, able to regenerate when injured by a foe. Tameka embraces her African roots and her transformation into a phoenix symbolizes her overcoming past trauma.

Sidney warns parents not to leave it up to the school system to teach their children about history. “I grew up thinking the Egyptians were white,” says the best-selling author, “When I learned the truth, I vowed to teach it to my children.”

Grandfamilies

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A 2012 United States Census Bureau survey found that 10 percent of all children in the United States lived with a grandparent. Of children living with their grandparent, aged 18 years and younger, an estimated 2.7 million grandparents were the primary caregivers for the children. Compared to other ethnic groups, African-American children are more often raised primarily by a grandparent. According to a Pew Research Center report, African-American children are twice as likely to live below the poverty line compared to children whose grandparents are not primary caregivers.

Sidney asked one of his college friends, Tanisha Carter, to write a poem about her experience growing up in a grandfamily. Her poem “The Golden Matriarch” is featured in the Tameka’s New Dress graphic novel and on the mixtape. Below is an excerpt from Tanisha’s poem:

And she even gave me knowledge I never knew

She exposed me to the disheartening facts of being black

Because of our history that she lived this wasn’t fiction she was talking, this was fact

And today I am grateful for all of that.

Author-Therapist Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW believes grandparents raising their grandchildren is on the rise. “I’m seeing more and more families where the grandparents are the primary caregivers. Grandparents of color face a number of challenges such as poor health, poverty and a lack of access to critical resources,” says Sidney. His experience working with families headed by grandparents encouraged him to author and self-publish Tameka’s New Dress. “When young people read Tameka’s New Dress they will find characters and experiences they can relate to,” explains Sidney.

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Cherlanda Sidney-Ross

Tameka’s New Dress features the author’s sister, Cherlanda Sidney-Ross, a former social worker and Family Services Supervisor. Mrs. Ross is contacted by Tameka’s guidance counselor and asked to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect. The social worker removes Tameka and her brothers from their chaotic home environment and places them in the care of their grandmother.

“My sister has always been a role model of mine. I credit her with inspiring me to enroll in Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Social Work and pursue my Master of Social Work degree,” said Sidney. He wanted to honor his sister and the thousands of other child welfare workers advocating for children every day.

Colorism

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Sidney hopes Tameka’s New Dress will help lift the ugly curse of colorism.” I want girls of color to know that it’s our shared history that unites us, not our complexion,” says best-selling author. Tameka’s New Dress pays homage to Beyonce by including a line from “Sorry”. Mesha, the book’s antagonist, bullies Tameka because she is a new student and is light-skinned. After class, Mesha approaches Tameka and says, “You must be the new girl! Hey, light bright! You must think you’re cute like Becky with the good hair!”

Tameka’s New Dress features a quote from Barbadian recording artist Rihanna, who spoke candidly about being picked on because of her complexion in Glamour Magazine. Sidney grew up not far from the Johnville plantation, a place where his great grandparents were enslaved. “Light-skinned vs. dark-skinned was alive and well when I went through school,” says the best-selling author, “I wanted to explore the concept in Tameka’s New Dress because it continues to impact young people’s self-esteem.”

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Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight, one of Sidney’s former classmates, submitted the book’s foreword. Her experience with colorism made the political personal. In the foreward she writes:

Tameka’s New Dress, resonated with me and I know it will for many others. Like Tameka, I have been persecuted for being a fair-complexioned, Black girl with “good hair”…despite the many successes of African-Americans, society equates being Black with being inferior. It’s sad. As a Black, educated, articulate, professional and driven female, I cannot and will not subscribe to these stereotypes. I believe in and pledge my life to Black excellence.

Bullying

“When I heard about what happened to Amy Francis-Joyner  on the news, I thought it was eerily similar to Tameka’s story,” says Sidney, “I decided to dedicate my book to Amy’s memory because she did not deserve what happened to her.”

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Amy Francis-Joyner

What happened on April 21, 2016 was a tragedy; Amy Francis-Joyner lost her young life and Trinity Carr’s life will forever be altered. On Tameka’s first day at her new school she is harassed by three bullies. Initially, Tameka runs home crying after being tormented by her bullies. The book’s ending teaches young people how to mange conflicts verbally. “Violence should always be the last alternative, not the first,” says the best-selling author.

At the end of Tameka’s New Dress, Tameka opens up her heart to forgiveness. Without forgiveness, Tameka would not have been able to reclaim her beauty and heal from the abuse and neglect she experienced throughout her life. “Hurt people hurt people,” says Sidney, “Bullies are oftentimes being victimized themselves.”

Tameka’s story celebrates diversity and visually empowers readers. Tameka’s New Dress’s author hopes his graphic novel will give girls of color new-found confidence. “My hope is that Tameka’s New Dress will inspire girls to find beauty inside themselves and others,” says Sidney.

About the author: Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW is a therapist, author and business owner. He is the author of Nelson Beats The Odds, Tameka’s New Dress, and Nelson Beats the Odds: Compendium One. With the help of Protenza Global Solutions, Sidney developed the Nelson Beats The Odds Comic Creator app . For inquiries, email him at ronnie@creative-medicine.com. Please visit his website at www.creative-medicine.com for more information.

Best-Selling Children’s Book Author Spills the Tea on Self-Publishing

My success as an author-publisher has attracted the attention of hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. Since releasing Amazon best-seller Nelson Beats the Odds, I’ve been featured on MicheLA, Fox and Friends Weekend and NBC 12 News.

Click here to order a copy of Nelson Beats the Odds, Tameka’s New Dress or Nelson Beats the Odds: Compendium One.

My name is Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW and I self-published Amazon best-seller Nelson Beats the Odds, a semiautobiographical comic book about a young man who struggles with the stigma of being placed in special education. I released Nelson Beats the Odds: Compendium One and Tameka’s New Dress this past summer. The compendium  gives readers a chance to experience Nelson Beats the Odds and Tameka’s New Dress in one thrilling graphic novel.

After being diagnosed as learning disabled and spending seven years in special education, the last thing I thought I would become was an author. I wasn’t a big reader or writer growing up, in fact my poor handwriting landed me in special education. Despite my challenges, I always dreamed of starting my own business. My dream came true in 2015 when I launched Creative Medicine: Healing Through Words, LLC. I used the my company to publish my three graphic novels. 

My success as an author-publisher has attracted the attention of hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. Since releasing Amazon best-seller Nelson Beats the Odds,  I’ve been featured on MicheLAFox and Friends Weekend and NBC 12 News.  Last year, I shared my wisdom in a workshop entitled “Self-Publishing and Social Justice“. I created the workshop to help prospective self-publishers create stories with social justice themes. Below are nine tips that helped me sell nearly two thousand books online and become an Amazon best-seller.

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1. Build a Following

The most common piece of advice I’ve heard from successful authors is to start a blog. I took the advice and started Nelson Beats the Odds on WordPress.com. My blog “Former special education student publishes best-selling children’s book” has over 50,000 views and over 24,000 Facebook shares. The blog’s popularity landed me interviews, speaking engagements and a huge increase in book sales.

My social media portfolio includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Snapchat. My Facebook page is very popular, accumulating over 9,600 likes, thanks in part to Facebook ads.  I joined several Facebook groups including Black Educators Rock, an online group with over 150,000 African American educators. Sharing posts in the group helped my book become an Amazon Best Seller in the Kindle Store Learning Disability category.

My visibility on Twitter @ronniesidneyii, @nelsonbeatstheo, Instagram ronniesidneyii, @nelsonbeatstheo, Tumblr @creativemedicinehtw and Snapchat @nelsonbeatstheo is steadily growing. Instagram is great because it allows you to simultaneously post on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Flickr. Instagram is also owned by Facebook, so your Facebook ads appear on Instagram for no additional cost.

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2. Find your Target Audience

From day one my goal was to inspire young people to beat the odds. When I grew up, there were very few children’s books with African American characters or characters with disabilities. I was in special education for seven years and I know exactly how it feels to be a struggling learner. Nelson Beats the Odds is a reflection of my experiences and a testament to my grit.

My experience working with families headed by grandparents inspired me to write and self-publish Tameka’s New Dress. As a therapist, I’m seeing more and more families where the grandparents are the primary caregivers due to parental substance abuse, incarceration and mental illness. The grandparents face a number of challenges such as poor health, poverty and a lack of access to critical resources.

Nelson Beats the Odds gave me access to networks I was previously unaware of. I have worked with the Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center (PEATC), I’m Determined, Virginia Council for Learning Disabilities (VCLD) and Virginia Council for Exceptional Children (VCEC) to advocate for the needs of exceptional education students across the state of Virginia. I’ve been invited as a keynote speaker by the Virginia Department of Education, Virginia Union University, VCU School of Social Work, Central Rappahannock Regional Library and the National Foster Parent Association.

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3. Hire/Recruit Free Lancers and Friends with Desired Skill Sets

Once I decided to write Nelson Beats the Odds, I went to Facebook to see if I could find an illustrator. Unforunately, none of the dozen or so referrals caught my eye. After joining eLance, over 30 illustrators from around the world expressed interest in working on Nelson Beats the Odds. Imagine that! Design caught my attention because of their diverse portfolio and personal connection. Kurt Keller, 1/2 of Imagine that! Design, told me he was diagnosed with dyslexia and spent several years in special education. I felt safe leaving my story in his hands because he related to it.

I worked with a variety of friends on both Nelson Beats the Odds and Tameka’s New Dress. A high school friend named Tiffany Carey Day has been my biggest contributor, serving as chief editor on both books. Editing is not my strong suit, so Tiffany and others helped me out tremendously.

*Unfortunately, eLance no longer exists, so I encourage authors looking for illustrators to visit Upwork or Hire an Illustrator.*

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4.  Be Fearless

You’ll never have enough time, money or support. Get use to long nights, overdraft fees, maxed out credit cards and disappointments. One of my favorite musicians Fela Kuti said it best, “the secret to life is to have no fear.” Fearlessness created the foundation for my success.

My life changed when I stopped being a bystander and started being the baby who picks up a remote control for the first time and presses every button until something happens. One of the strengths of being diagnosed with ADHD is impulsivity. There have been times when I hopped in my car with a trunk full of books and set up at an event I just heard about. My journey has taught me to trust my instincts .

Last year I read two of the most empowering books ever written, “The Alchemist” and “The Secret“. The insight offered in the two books are invaluable, particularly for those seeking their divine purpose. There is an awesome video Steve Harvey did last year about jumping. In order for you to launch your dream, you have to be fearless and jump.

5.  Set a Modest Kickstarter Goal or Use Sites like Indiegogo

The biggest mistake I made was setting my Kickstarter goal for Nelson Beats the Odds at $10,000. I was really ambitious and thought I could reach the goal in 45 days. I only managed to raise about $1,800. Since I didn’t reach my goal I was unable to receive any money. When I began working on my second book, Tameka’s New Dress, I set my goal for $700. I raised a little over a grand this time around but hit my goal.  Crowdfunding sites are great platforms to launch your vision. I recommend you research Kickstarter other crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and GoFundMe before you make your decision.

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6.  Stay Hungry

I’m pushing my brand just as hard today as I did when I first launched. Since releasing Nelson Beats the Odds, I’ve been featured on MicheLAFox and Friends WeekendNBC 12 News and Comcast. My work ethic and persistence also landed me interviews with Understood.org, Teach.com, ADD.org, Virginia Pilot, Free Lance Star, Rappahannock Times Dispatch and the Richmond Times Dispatch. Work your butt off to be the best in your respective genre and they visibility will come.

7. Use Multiple Publishing Platforms & Distributors

When I realeased my first book, Nelson Beats The Odds, I didn’t know anything about publishing. Every website I searched recommended using Createspace. The site is free, easy to use and has great customer service. In less than a day my book was available on Amazon and Kindle. I encourage everyone to try CreatespaceAmazon Kindle Direct Publishing and Ingramspark. It’s very difficult to get books into traditional book stores, but the three sites listed above give you access to Amazon.com, Walmart.com, BarnesandNoble.com, BooksaMillion.com.

Amazon also has a feature called Author Central. I created an Amazon author page that allows me to upload my blog, biography, photos and videos. The page also gives you access to the Nielson Bookscan. The bookscan gives you an opportunity to track your sales and view which region your books are most popular in.  As of October 16, 2016 I have sold 1,911 books. On average, I bring home about a $1,000 in online sales.

Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing is another great service.They have a feature where you can offer your eBook for free five times over the span of 90 days. I also encourage authors to publish their book in paperback, hardcover, eBook and audio book. The more platforms you have, the more accessibility customers have to your products.

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Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW and Neal Shusterman, 2015 National Book Award Winner

8. Network & Promote
Since writing Nelson Beats The Odds, I’ve had an opportunity to meet authors, educators, musicians, poets, clothing designers and artists. I intentionally surround myself with successful people. I spend a lot of time scanning social media and other internet websites for events and individuals to network with. I vend at least once per week. Vending is a great way to make money and network.

When I released my first book, I asked friends to share photos of their children reading Nelson Beats The Odds. It was an effective strategy that increased my visibility. I started #iBeatTheOdds, a popular Facebook social media campaign , to give individuals a platform to share stories about how they beat the odds. It was liberating for me to share my story and I want to give others the same opportunity.

After releasing Nelson Beats the Odds, Sidney was inspired to develop the Nelson Beats The Odds Comic Creator app for iOS mobile devices. The companion app allows users to customize photos and share them with friends on social media.  The app gives the brand an additional platform to promote on.

9. Expect Nothing and Appreciate Everything

Developing thick skin is mandatory because not everyone will buy into your dream. There when nothing goes your way and you want to quit. Shake it off and bounce back- you will learn more from your failures than your successes. Remember, always show gratitude to those who helped you along your personal journey.

For inquires, please contact us at ronnie@creative-medicine.com. For more information about our services, please visit www.creative-medicine.com.

Tameka’s New Dress is Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’ of Children’s Books

For me, it was important to tell the story of Tameka’s dress. It’s her cloak, an impenetrable force field that shields her from negativity. The dress gives Tameka the ability to love unconditionally without the fear of being hurt. Like Lemonade, Tameka’s New Dress celebrates the diversity of Black women and visually empowers Black girls.

Click here to purchase a copy of Tameka’s New Dress

Like Lemonade, I use political messages, themes and symbolism to get my points across in Tameka’s New Dress. The young-adult graphic novel is a visual tale of loss, hope, and Black female empowerment.

Beyoncé ’s Lemonade is a lengthy, creative concept video and album. The video is divided into 11 chapters: “Intuition,” “Denial,” “Anger,” “Apathy,” “Emptiness,” “Accountability,” “Reformation,” “Forgiveness,” “Resurrection,” “Hope,” and “Redemption.” I want to divide my blog into four of those chapters, juxtaposing Tameka’s New Dress with Lemonade.

Anger

During the anger chapter, Beyoncé features an excerpt from a speech by Malcolm X:

The most disrespected woman in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.

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A gifted Kemet Middle School student, Tameka is accused of pushing another student. When the principal mentions to Tameka that she may be suspended, Tameka starts to panic. Tameka’s fear stems from the abuse and neglect she experiences at home. Inside the home Tameka’s step-father disrespects her body, her mother fails to protect her, and both parents neglect her.

During the anger chapter, Beyoncé transforms into 18th Dynasty queen Nefertiti. Nefertiti is the wife of my favorite pharaoh, Akhenaten. The two began a religious revolution in Kemet, or Ancient Egypt, that influenced contemporary religions like Christianity and Judaism. After Nefertiti’s husband died, scholars believe she ruled Kemet as Neferneferuaten.

My favorite illustration in Tameka’s New Dress shows Tameka holding the fabric for her new dress, visualizing herself as warrior queens Nefertiti, Nzinga and Nandi. In the background of the illustration is the Sankofa bird. Sankofa is an Akan word whose literal translation is, “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.” In the one-minute long trailer of Lemonade, Beyoncé  whispers, “The past and the present merge to us here. What are you hiding?” Standing on the shoulders of our ancestors is a major theme throughout Tameka’s New Dress and Lemonade.

Emptiness

In “6 inch,” Beyoncé walks out of a burning house and stands outside of it symbolizing the rising of the phoenix. In Kemet, or ancient Egypt, the phoenix originated as the Bennu. Greek historian, Herodotus, said the Bennu came from Arabia every 500 years. Before the phoenix dies, it builds a nest of cinnamon twigs, lays down it and dies. A new phoenix rises out of the ashes, able to regenerate when injured by a foe. Tameka embraces her African roots and her transformation into a phoenix symbolizes her overcoming past trauma.

Redemption

Grandmother, the alchemist, you spun gold out of this hard life, conjured beauty from the things left behind. Found healing where it did not live. Discovered the antidote in your own kit. Broke the curse with your own two hands. You passed these instructions down to your daughter who then passed it down to her daughter.

I had my ups and downs, but I always find the inner strength to pull myself up. I was served lemons, but I made lemonade. My grandma said “Nothing real can be threatened.” True love brought salvation back into me. With every tear came redemption and my torturers became my remedy. So we’re gonna heal. We’re gonna start again. You’ve brought the orchestra, synchronized swimmers.

First, I want to show love to Warsan Shire, Somali-British poet, who provided the poetry for Beyonce’s monologues. I loved the narrative during the redemption chapter because it describes Tameka’s experience with her grandmother to a tee.

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As the chapter opens, Beyoncé dons an antebellum-style dress with patterns derived from African fabric. Tameka’s grandmother sews her an African wax cloth dress with redemption and resilience embedded in every stitch. A true alchemist, Tameka’s grandmother helps her turn lemons into lemonade. Her grandmother’s unconditional love and words of encouragement comforts Tameka and dries her tears.

Forgiveness

Baptize me … now that reconciliation is possible. If we’re gonna heal, let it be glorious. 1,000 girls raise their arms. Do you remember being born? Are you thankful for the hips that cracked? The deep velvet of your mother and her mother and her mother? There is a curse that will be broken.

The warmth that Jay-Z and Beyoncé share to the soundtrack of “Sandcastles” is EPIC! Push and pull, argue and make-up, it’s the duality of interpersonal relationships that make us human.

Without forgiveness, Tameka would not have been able to move past the abuse and neglect. Without forgiveness, Tameka would not have been able to affirm her bully’s beauty.

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My hope is that the curse of colorism will be broken. After Lemonade was released, I asked my illustrator to revise a line in my book. Mesha, the book’s antagonist, bullies Tameka because she is a new student and is light-skinned. After class, Mesha approaches Tameka and says, “You must be the new girl! Hey, light bright! You must think you’re cute like Becky with the good hair!”

I grew up down the road from the Johnville plantation, the place where my ancestors were enslaved and worked to death. Light-skinned vs. dark-skinned was alive and well when I went through school. I didn’t realize it was weapon created to divide us until I read the Willie Lynch papers in college. I asked an exceptional young lady that I met while working at Rappahannock Community College to submit the book’s foreword. Rebecca experienced colorism first hand, I felt her experience would make the political personal. I felt like I needed to address colorism in Tameka’s New Dress because the same preconceptions and misconceptions continue to divide children of color today.Tameka forgives her tormentor Mesha, breaking the curse of colorism. I want girls of color to know that melanin UNIFIES us. I look forward to the day when social activists like Jessie Williams can speak out about racial injustice without their “blackness” being put on trial.

For me, it was important to tell the story of Tameka’s dress. It’s her cloak, an impenetrable force field that shields her from negativity. The dress gives Tameka the ability to love unconditionally without the fear of being hurt. Like Lemonade, Tameka’s New Dress celebrates the diversity of Black women and visually empowers Black girls.

About: Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW is an author (Nelson Beats The Odds, Tameka’s New Dress), publisher, therapist, app developer (Nelson Beats The Odds Comic Creator), philanthropist and literary activist. Ronnie partnered with his illustrators Imagine That! Design to publish Nelson Beats the Odds and Tameka’s New Dress. For inquiries email us at ronnie@creative-medicine.com or visit http://www.creative-medicine.com.

Louisiana High School Senior Pens Inspirational Essay About Beating the Odds

“Although my childhood was difficult, I am now in a place where I can appreciate the lessons that those experiences taught me and I can in turn use them as building blocks toward my success”

Ronnie Sidney II, former Special Education student and Best-Selling Children’s Book Author (“Nelson Beats The Odds“) who beat the odds, has reached out to high school student-athlete Devonte Harris. Harris, who has beat the odds as well, is aspiring to enroll in Southern University in the Fall.  
Devonte Harris, a senior at Northshore High School, wrote the following essay:
“I grew up with family and friends who barely finished high school and did not even attempt to attend college. Although I was a misguided kid, I dreamed of furthering my education so that I could get a degree and make something of myself. I knew there had to be more to life. Yet I found it difficult to stay focused on my aspirations because of all of the distractions and negativity that surrounded me. There were school fights, peer pressure, and extreme family conflicts. It got to the point where I felt like I was destined to either follow the path of those around me, or I could start a new path even if that meant walking alone.
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While Marion will always be home for me, I knew that I had to find a new destination to rid myself of feelings of hopelessness, despair, and poverty before it was too late. At the age of sixteen, I took advantage of an opportunity to move to Slidell, LA with a family friend. This move was also symbolic of me moving closer to my dreams of obtaining a college degree.

Unfortunately, things have not magically improved for me since relocating. I have been rerouted several times, and my college dorm room will likely be the first stable home I have ever known. I have lived with four different families in the past three years. Each transition has been a bit more difficult than the last. I also have financial responsibilities that typical high-schoolers do not have to concern themselves with. I currently have a part-time job averaging 30 hours per week, which helps cover expenses such as my phone bill, groceries, school dues, and transportation.

 

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Despite these experiences, however, I consider myself a conqueror because not only have I realized what is best for me but I have sacrificed in order to make my dream a reality. God is now surrounding me with a circle of people who provide the support I was previously lacking. They have encouraged me to reach for new heights, have provided emotional and financial support with my efforts in getting into college, and have even (lovingly) fussed at me when needed. While balancing work and a full course load, I have been able to maintain a 3.0 grade point average. I consider myself to be a “regular” teenager, and enjoy playing on the varsity basketball team and hanging out with my friends. I am even looking forward to going to prom later this month.

I will be graduating in May and have been accepted into Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA. I look forward to furthering my education, and am confident that I will be successful as I have already mastered certain life skills such as time management, adapting to new environments, and balancing multiple responsibilities at once. Although my childhood was difficult, I am now in a place where I can appreciate the lessons that those experiences taught me and I can in turn use them as building blocks toward my success.

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Realistically I understand that college will still bring its own set of challenges. I will once again have to uproot myself and move to a new environment. I will continue to work while in school to ensure I have safe housing and other basic necessities. And I can only imagine that excelling in the engineering program will require an even higher level of resilience. While more speed bumps, potholes, and detours may await me, I trust that I am strong enough to continue to persevere. Because I have learned that the strength that lies within me is much greater that any obstacle that may lie before me. And I continue to trust that my best is yet to come.”

Mr. Nolan, Devonte Harris‘s teacher:

Mr.Sidney,

I have worked extensively with Devonte at school this past year. No student has ever impressed me or made quite the impact on me he has. He is an inspiring young man and capable of great things. We all at his school are excited for what is ahead. I want to thank you for taking this interest in Devonte. Every dollar is a huge help for him.

Devonte Harris contacted me a few weeks ago and asked about a scholarship that I offered to Essex High School seniors who beat the odds. Devonte wasn’t eligible for the scholarship because he didn’t attend Essex High School. After reading his essay I reached out to him and told him that I wanted to help. I started a GoFundMe page for his personal #iBeatTheOdds scholarship fund. This young man has truely beat the odds. Please help Devonte’s college dreams come true. He graduates in May and hopes to enroll in Southern University and A&M College, let’s send him off with a few dollars in his pocket. Here is the link to his GoFundMe page https://www.gofundme.com/anyqrcsk
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I Am Nelson #iBeatTheOdds

When I walked across that stage on May 9, 2014, it was the best feeling in the world. I finally made it to the proverbial mountain top! With the achievement came a obligation to give back to youth who shared a similar story.

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Illustrations by Imagine That! Design; Photo edit by Your Baby Photography

My name is Ronnie Nelson Sidney, II, MSW and I am Nelson. I authored and published Nelson Beats The Odds in August of 2015.In the book *spoiler alert* Nelson delivers a graduation speech at the end of the book. I didn’t give a speech at my graduation but I included the image to show how far Nelson had come.

I graduated with my Master of Social Work degree from Virginia Commonwealth University in August of 2014. I was proud of myself because I earned a 3.5 GPA in one of the top ranked social work programs in the country. I was on top of the world! While I was celebrating I thought about the times when I felt like I was at the bottom of the world. I was a struggling learner K-12, spending seven years in special education and remediation. I was diagnosed with ADHD and a Learning Disability which only made me feel stigmatized and resentful. After reflecting on those painful experiences I thought it was important for me to share them in my book.

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Illustrations by Imagine That! Design; Photo edit by Your Baby Photography

In school all I wanted to was to spend time with my friends and have the opportunity to take the classes they were taking. Despite struggling academically my dream was to graduate from college. I finished high school with a 1.8 GPA which limited my college options. I decided to enroll in Reynolds Community College in Richmond, VA. I made the Dean’s List my second semester and transferred to Old Dominion University. I refused to tell either school that I had an IEP because I wanted to prove that I could do it all by myself. See, I never believed that I was learning disabled and my mission was to prove everyone wrong that did.

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I graduated from ODU in 2006 with my Bachelors of Science in Human Services. I immediately went to work in the counseling field as an Adolescent and Substance Abuse Counselor. I didn’t decide to go back to school until 2011. I put my master’s degree off because in the back of my mind I didn’t think I could do it. In 2011 I stepped out on faith, left my job and moved to Richmond, VA. While I was enrolled in the VCU School of Social Work MSW program I  was unemployed; had my first child; moved three times; and, worked full time at a prison. My plate was full but I was determined to beat the odds.

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Illustrations by Imagine That! Design; Photo edit by Your Baby Photography

The odds seemed stacked against me when I looked at my MSW course curriculum and saw that it required three research classes. My anxiety was through the roof on the first day of Foundations of Research in Social Work Practice. My professor Dr. Nicole Lee, Assistant professor in teaching, eased my anxiety and transformed the way I look at research. She turned boring statistics into opportunities fund projects and guide practice. A lot of what I learned from Dr. Lee’s class helped provide the quantitative and qualitative framework for Nelson Beats The Odds and my upcoming book Tameka’s New Dress. Dr. Lee has been one of my biggest supporters and mentors. She held a Zumba Dance Party fundraiser for my book.

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Dr. Nicki Lee and three Zumba Dance Instructors at the Nelson Beats The Odds Event

 

When I walked across that stage on May 9, 2014, it was the best feeling in the world. I finally made it to the top of the proverbial mountain! With the achievement came a obligation to give back to  youth who shared a similar story. I  began writing the manuscript for my book after I reconnected with my Special Education teacher Mrs. Tobey. I held a ceremony to honor my former teachers  at Essex High School in Tappahannock, Virginia. Mrs. Tobey told me to share my story so I used the internet to search for self-publishing tips. My illustrator, Imagine That! Design contacted me after they read my proposal on the website called Elance. In the message Kurt Keller mentioned he was diagnosed with dyslexia and received special education services. Perfect! I was at ease sharing my story with him because I knew he could relate. I told him and his wife Traci that my goal is to inspire struggling learners or children experiencing adverse childhood experiences to beat the odds. Nelson Beats the Odds has eclipsed my expectations by becoming an Amazon best-seller, and more importantly, a tool that parents and educators can use to help struggling students.

MANUP Founder Helps Portsmouth Youth Beat the Odds

“If this cycle continues for years, then eventually we will have just as many positive leaders among our youth as we do gang members and inmates,” says Baker.

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28-year-old Marcus Baker is the founder of the MANUP Leadership Institute (Mastering and Nurturing Unlimited Potential). He is also a father of three, Marion Baker (7), Mariah Gaskins (5), and Malique Baker (2). Baker received his Associate of Science degree from Tidewater Community College (TCC). At TCC Baker served as the SGA president at the Portsmouth Campus. While serving as president, Baker noticed that Portsmouth Public School graduates weren’t proficient in math and reading. Baker felt a sense of responsibility so he used a class project to develop the MANUP program.The program has found a new home at Cradock Middle School

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“Nelson Beats The Odds” author Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW and MANUP Leadership Institute

The MANUP founder shared his ‪#‎iBeatTheOdds‬ story with students from Cradock Middle School. Baker received a ton of scholarships his senior year of high school and decided to enroll in college in North Carolina. While in college Baker ended up in jail after a physical confrontation with a security guard. Once he returned to Portsmouth, VA he was shot by a stray bullet and nearly almost lost his leg. He decided to turn his life around by enrolling in Tidewater Community College for the sake of his children.

I served as a mentor to Baker while he was in Old Dominion University’s Upward Bound Program. He was one of the most challenging, strong willed teens that I’ve ever worked with. I always saw his leadership potential and today the mentee has become the mentor. Baker’s goal is to transform the group of Cradock Middle School boys into men. His organization’s mission is to “promote leadership development for young men in urban communities by focusing on academics, extracurricular activities, and community service.” Baker says that his 10-step leadership training program helps young men learn qualities that are required to be an effective leader. “I chose to create this program because I identified the need for more young leaders in our communities. We always try to lead children, as adults, when in fact most children choose to follow the actions of their peers instead of the adults in their lives.” The young men focus on values like respect, listening, etiquette, leadership and service.

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MANUP Circle of Success

Baker believes that children follow their peers because they seek their acceptance and come from troubling home environments. “Broken families are a big problem in urban communities across the country. Sons are growing up without fathers and daughters without mothers,” Baker shares on his GoFundMe page. Baker is seeking support from the community because of limited funding and resources. Due to a lack of resources, Baker was forced to limit the number of male students in his program. Baker believes the program is headed in the right direction. “If this cycle continues for years, then eventually we will have just as many positive leaders among our youth as we do gang members and inmates,” says Baker.

The MANUP founder is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from Norfolk State University. He plans on pursuing his master’s degree in Urban Education after he completes his bachelors. In the next 5-10 years Baker looks forward to running a youth center that will give underprivileged youth something to do with their spare time. Baker’s advice to young people, “Never give up and always believe your dreams will come true because you don’t know whose life you will impact that day.” Please support MANUP Leadership Institute by visiting their GoFundMe page.

For more inspirational stories visit our #iBeatTheOdds Facebook group page. Visit our website to purchase a copy of Nelson Beats The Odds and download our free app, mixtape and teacher’s guide.