Thursday, September 9, 2010

Alumnus Tariq West Reflects

Dear Richard,

I am writing you today to thank you. Thanks to you and Higher Achievement, I have accomplished more than I ever dreamed.

When I was eight years old, a wave of violence swept through my neighborhood. I went to sleep every night to the sound of gunfire.

The National Guard came with their humvees to set up huge banks of floodlights. For a week or more, the lights shone so bright that there was no night.

This was the backdrop of much of my childhood. Drugs and gangs were pervasive; in fact, it’s hard to even describe the sense of hopelessness that governed where I grew up.

I remember as a 10-year-old, a friend from my block asserting with utter confidence that we were never going to get out of the ghetto. “We were born broke and black,” he said, “and we’ll die that way.” Even as a child I understood how tragic a sentiment that was.

I struggled with what it meant to be a promising young person in a place where promise was crushed and squandered. How could I explain my ambitions to peers who had learned not to dream?

My parents were hard working, supportive and expected a lot of me, but their expectations were set against the powerful and destructive atmosphere that we lived in - mediocrity, failure, delinquency were the norms. It could have been all too easy to give up on my future.

Then I found Higher Achievement. It was the beginning of my coming into my own.

I just graduated from Stanford University. The day embodied the hard work and highest hopes of my parents and me. But we could not have done it alone. It was Higher Achievement that challenged and helped me grow at a pivotal point in my life.

Higher Achievement helped me opened doors in my life that I thought I could not have opened on my own. Now I know I can open those doors for myself, because Higher Achievement helped me build confidence, self-awareness and a sense of purpose in the world. Higher Achievement was a safe place for dreams.

Higher Achievement’s academic coaches and mentors helped me move beyond my struggles with mathematics, encouraged me to explore the world through the written word and helped me find my own voice. They believed in me and inspired in me a steadfast belief in my own ability.

Thanks to the skills and support I received at Higher Achievement, my grades improved dramatically. I attended a top-tier high school and studied alongside children who grew up in privileged environments. It was intimidating and alienating at times, but Higher Achievement had given me the tools I needed to succeed.

Now I’m a regular contributor to Higher Achievement and as I make the move back to the DC area I look forward to giving back as a mentor and as a friend of the program. My deepest hope now, and the reason I am writing to you today, is that I want children from all across the country to benefit from Higher Achievement as I did.

There is no question that Higher Achievement can make a difference. I am living proof.

The only question is how many children can be served. Thanks to the mentors and staff at Higher Achievement, I have accomplished things that once I couldn’t imagine. I feel compelled now to do everything I can to afford the same experience to every child who has dreams but lacks the means to achieve them.

Thank you, Richard, for your tireless faith in the promise of young people. Your commitment is inspiring and your vision of empowering youth is extremely necessary. Please let me know how I can help.


Tariq West

P.S. I owe so much to Higher Achievement. The program met me in my neighborhood, among my peers and gave me the tools to achieve my dreams. While other kids hung out on the street, I’d begun the hard work of building my future.

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