From At Risk Youth to Productive Community Member

A Promise Kept

I met Jumad four years ago. It was a sunny day in Los Angeles, and I was playing college tour guide at my alma mater, USC, to a great group of high school Dreamers. I had already become a mentor with IHADLA to a young girl who was still in middle school in East LA, but this was a new group of Dreamers to me: Program 15, sponsored ten years earlier, in Pasadena. Great kids…attentive, responsive, polite. Except for Jumad.

From what I’ve been told by his program coordinator, Raquel Alvarado, Jumad was often a “problem child.” He was an at risk youth. It was questionable at that point whether or not Jumad would even stay in school the remainder of that year. On our field trip, he seemed to want to make a point of not paying attention, talking, making remarks while others were speaking, or cracking jokes. He was, to use an old-fashioned phrase, “too cool for school.” I, of course, saw his attitude as a challenge.

Instead of letting Jumad continue with his interruptions, I called him on them. I made the whole group stop and listen. I asked him questions, and he and I sparred – sometimes good-naturedly, sometimes not. It never got out of hand, and I was actually a little amused by him, but it was disruptive to what we were all supposed to be focused upon. Then, when we were all gathered around Tommy Trojan, Jumad and I found some common ground.

I’ve had season tickets to Trojan Football since I was 18 years old and a freshman at USC (it was a long time ago, no need to say how many years). I try to attend all of the home games, bowl games, and some of the away games. I belong to Cardinal & Gold and go to most of their private pregame picnics. Game day is always a special occasion, and I absolutely love the game of football, especially when it’s played by the USC Trojans. Apparently, Jumad feels the same way and said as much that long-ago day on our college tour. It was a nice moment of bonding, and I remember it fondly.

When the bus arrived back at home base in Pasadena that day, I said good-bye to all the kids, to Raquel, and to my new favorite troublemaker, Jumad. I told them all to study hard, and I would look forward to stories of their high school graduation and entries into the college world. It was then that Raquel whispered in my ear that Jumad might not be one of those successful Dreamer stories, that he was having a lot of trouble at school, so I reflexively shouted over to him, “Hey Jumad, you graduate from high school, and I’ll treat you to a USC Football game!”

Flash forward to August, 2012: I’m no longer a volunteer with the “I Have a Dream” Foundation – Los Angeles. I’m the new Executive Director. I’ve been invited to attend and do a brief speech at a reunion of the Pasadena Dreamers, Programs 12 & 15, the latter being the recent 2010 high school graduates. Both programs had been sponsored by Carol & Chris McGuire, with the Berger Foundation. One by one, Dreamers came up to the microphone to say how great it was to see old friends (some from Program 12 had not seen each other in over ten years!), to thank their program coordinators (whom some referred to as their “other moms”), and to honor Carol & Chris.

Jumad was one of the last to speak. I didn’t recognize him at first, and I asked myself, “is this the same kid from that field trip?” Just as he was concluding his words of gratitude for all that IHADLA, Chris, Carol, and Raquel had done for him, I joined him at the mic. I asked him if he was that same Dreamer who gave me so much trouble so long ago at USC. He sheepishly said, “Yeah, I think so.” I asked him if he had graduated from high school. He looked at me and said “yeah,” in a way that could have been “duh.” So I said, “I owe you some football tickets!”

At the end of the reunion, Raquel informed me that Jumad had “turned everything around.” He not only graduated from high school, but he got sober and is now preaching at his church. He even recently visited with our Dreamers in Inglewood and spoke to them about staying in school and staying in line. Jumad is a true Dreamer success, and he acknowledges publicly how important IHADLA has been in his life.

The promise was a simple gesture, made in an off-hand manner, and I wasn’t really even sure Jumad truly wanted the tickets, but I had made that promise, and I was determined to keep it. I contacted Jumad a few weeks later, got his mailing address, and started to put together a game-day package for him. Tickets, check. Parking, check. Card to say have fun, check. Forty bucks enclosed for refreshments, check. That seemed about right. It would be a fun football day.

From Jumad, via Facebook, a few days later:

I got the card. Thank you very much, Katy. u don’t know how much I appreciate this I’m taking my grandmother. She has never been to a game before so thanks to you she will. I know she’s going to love it. It’s going to be a surprise:)

OK…to say this blew me away would be an understatement. Not only was this experience important to Jumad, but it was going to be a very special family moment. Kinda made me think (yet again) about how many things so many people (like me) take for granted, that actually mean so much to others.

I had more to do: get Jumad and his grandmother into the Cardinal Gold picnic (which features a full, gourmet buffet, full bar in case grandma wanted a pregame cocktail, and a free program), check. Picnic instructions sent, check. Tell those in the Coliseum seats near mine (I’ve had the seats for years, so I know them all) to high five Jumad and Grammy when USC makes a touchdown, check. Cross my fingers that Jumad would find his way around the overflowing Coliseum grounds of the sold-out game and he and his grandmother would have a good time, check.

Jumad replied to the picnic instructions:

Ok and thanks a lot again u don’t know how much this means to me:)

I was actually kinda nervous now about everything being perfect for Jumad – and for his grandmother’s big surprise.

Saturday, October 20th, 2012. Game Day. USC  v. Colorado.

USC Quarterback Matt Barkley is 19 for 20 with six touchdowns and becomes the Pac-12 Conference all-time leader in touchdown passes. Four of Barkley’s touchdown passes were to Robert Woods, who became the all-time USC leader in touchdown receptions. The Trojans beat the Buffaloes 50-6.

On the $7 million video screen across the north end of the Coliseum, video congratulations were offered to Barkley and Woods from Heisman winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, former USC Coach Pete Carrol, and former star receiver Keyshawn Johnson. I wish they’d also made a video congratulating Jumad on being such a great kid and graduating from high school.

At halftime, IHADLA’s USC Annenberg Intern, Rebekah Valencia, who was also at the game, found my seats and took a photo. She texted me the shot with the caption, “…everyone around them seemed to be taking care of them…I asked his grandma if she was having fun and she said yes with the big smile J”

Smiley face, indeed.

I’m really happy Jumad and his grandmother had a good day, I’m really happy I volunteered with IHADLA so many years ago, and I’m really happy I was able to keep that long-ago promise…because it means now that Jumad is on a good path.

I think I enjoyed this USC football game more than any other, ever. Fight On.

Jumad’s Grandmother is still wearing her picnic nametag, and has the program in her lap. Nice.
IHADLA Dreamer Jumad and his Grandma USC Game