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VOL. 130 | NO. 241 | Friday, December 11, 2015

One Step Initiative Taking Education Beyond Memphis

By Madeline Faber

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For some high school seniors, college is the first time they leave home. For others, college isn’t in the cards. A local nonprofit, One Step Initiative, is looking to make college a nearer possibility by sending high school seniors abroad and providing them with ongoing professional support.

L to R: George Spruille, Whitehaven High School; Timothy Edwards, Melrose High School; Briyana Dandridge, Southwind High School; Alex Montgomery, Melrose High School 

(Submitted)

Instead of spending the holidays at home, four Memphis high school students are anxious for their two-week trip to Ghana.

They’ll leave Wednesday, Dec. 16, on an African-American culture and heritage trip to see Elmina Castle, which is the first slave-trading post in sub-Saharan Africa; meet with local scholars, dignitaries and expatriates; visit gold mines and textile mills; and then return ready to take on the next step in Memphis. It’s the first trip organized by One Step.

The program is the brainchild of Brian Booker, a native Memphian and graduate of Melrose High School and the University of Memphis. Booker studied abroad while pursuing a business degree at the U of M and wants to bring that opportunity to students from a similar background.

“We’re focusing on underserved communities and high school students because these are the students that rarely get his chance brought to them. It’s a foreign concept in itself,” he said.

The trips, which average $5,600 a student, come at little to no cost to the student. Parents are encouraged to contribute as much as they can to supplement the donations from small businesses and local groups like SchoolSeed, the financial agent of a $90 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation given to improve Memphis-area public schools.

Lack of study-abroad opportunities and finances are the key hurdles to getting inner-city high school students on potentially life-changing learning trips, Booker said.

“We are trying to interject in high school by giving them productive and better choices,” he added. “I want them to seek better avenues than the ones that they’re surrounded by daily. There are a lot of negative influences out there as it relates to gangs and crime life. There’s a lot of things that could send those students instead of down a pipeline from high school to college to a great career, down that road from high school to jail.”

Two of the students in the group come from Booker’s alma mater, Melrose, and one student comes from Southwind High and another from Whitehaven High.

Alex Montgomery is a senior at Melrose and will start Austin Peay State University next year. He’s looking to study psychology, which fits his stated goal to learn how to better interact and help people through his experience in Ghana.

Montgomery said that when Booker told him that Montgomery’s principal and teachers had nominated him for the opportunity, he couldn’t believe it.

He’s in the top 10 percent of his class and serves in countless leadership positions in his school, but he never thought that Melrose students would be considered.

“At Melrose, we’ve been looked over and been looked at as the bad community in the city. So for someone to come to us who was from Orange Mound and has been successful – to come back and say that there is something good in the community and he wants to bring it back, it can really make a difference.”

He said that the biggest part of trip for him will be seeing the slave ship stations because it shows where segregation and slavery began.

“This will be different and much more intense,” he said.

Booker stresses to the students that this isn’t an all-expenses-paid vacation. On returning, the students are expected to give presentations and continue as mentors and globally minded citizens. He said that he hopes the program will help combat the “brain drain” of Memphis’ brightest and encourage students to enroll in college.

“The most important part about leaving is coming back,” he said.

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