Celebrities such as “Shark Tank’s” Daymond John and actress LaLa Anthony donate their time and talents to a Brooklyn nonprofit called “I Will Graduate.”
The group has been inspiring high school seniors to do just that by recruiting celebrities since 2008.
The empowerment program was co-founded by Tonya Lewis Taylor, who brings energy and enthusiasm to the program.
“The goal is that our young people will learn from other’s mistakes,” Taylor said. “When you get to hear from someone — their life struggles, their journey, their triumphs, joys, sorrow — it connects to that person in a different way and you see that they’re human. And if they can do it, you can too.”
Taylor is not just the co-founder of the 13-year-old program, she’s also a celebrity in her own right.
After rubbing elbows with entertainers at concerts, the gospel recording artist decided to get her colleagues to “sing her tune” and help save students who were falling through the cracks.
Actor Joseph Sikora is one of Tonya’s biggest gets.
The star of “Power” explained to students that if he could go back and do it all over again, he would have been laser focused on his studies.
When the pandemic shut down her high energy events, Taylor launched “In The Classroom” to inspire students to finish strong, remotely.
“During the pandemic, we couldn’t do live school visits so we decided to do it on Zoom, and it became a huge instant hit with the young people,” she said.
Taylor says the program is paying off. The “I Will Graduate” program serves more than 15,000 students every week and is dedicated to empowering students, families and the community by communicating the importance of educational excellence.
Celebrities are just a fraction of their program: They also have youth development programs, arts-in-education, college and career guidance, mentoring, parent engagement, school and community workshops, and the use of multi-media platforms.
Statistics from the city’s Department of Education show the graduation rate is at record highs: In January of 2020, then-Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza reported that the city’s 2020 four-year high school graduation rate was 78.8%, with gains in every single borough. The stats were also up more than 10 points since 2014.
Taylor has poured her heart and soul into the program.
Hip-hop legend Uncle Snoop encouraged the students to stay focused and get their education.
Organizers with the program know that many students look up to celebrities and take their advice seriously.
Taylor plans to double down next year and enlist even more celebrities to help keep at-risk students engaged because she believes they will graduate once they feel seen and heard.
Original posted at www.ny1.com