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High Need, High Achievement and Core Values are Keys to Developing Change-Makers

The Elevation Scholars program mines Central Florida’s Title I high schools for students exhibiting the non-profit’s core values of kindness, service, leadership, and discipline. It sets them on a course to become change-makers.

When the organization was in its foundational stages of turning concepts into an education-focused program, it couldn’t have found a better model for the kind of student it wanted to help than its first scholar – Revel Lubin.

Elevation Scholars’ founder learned about him from a news story on the Thanksgiving food drive he and other student government leaders had put together for homeless families of students at his school.

The backstory was the attention-grabber, though. Lubin and three of his siblings were being raised by their sister following their mother’s passing from an aneurysm seven years earlier. He had quit sports to get a job to help his sister pay the bills after their electricity had been cut off. He also happened to be student government president.

Kindness. Service. Leadership. Discipline.

“He had everything we were looking for,” said Scott Lee, Elevation Foundation President. “The only question we didn’t know was did he have the academics.”

He had the grades too, but he lacked the test scores and required classes that colleges typically look for.  Helping students develop a “college-going” culture would become a core tenant of Elevation Scholars’ program. The best investment would be money up front – a program that would begin when students are in 9th grade– with high-quality counseling and “intrusive advising and support.”

“We would spend a little money up front, like a down payment, and the colleges would come along and pay them many thousands in scholarships,” Lee says. “If we pick the right kid, this stuff will happen every single time. Those were our early realizations.”

Since its founding in 2013, Elevation Scholars has expanded to working with four Title I high schools where 92 percent of the students are considered low-income. Outreach to students begins with Elevation Club when students are in 9th grade. The monthly club meetings introduce them to everything they’ll need to compete for spots at some of the nation’s most selective universities.  Their goal is not just a college education but an education at one of the nation’s top 100 universities – an arena sorely lacking in college applicants who are the first in their families to attend, so-called first-generation college students.

The Elevation Scholar Award  is given to select students in their junior year – a five-year investment in the students not only to help them get to college but to guide them while they attend.

“The research is pretty clear,” Lee says. “It’s not the academics that cause first-gen kids not to succeed. It’s the idea of imposter syndrome – they feel like they don’t belong, along with limits on family financial support due to the implications of generational poverty. Little problems are impossible to overcome without outside support.”

The Elevation Scholars Award includes some earmarks not typically found in scholarship awards, like winter clothing – for a Florida kid who might get a full ride to Wake Forrest in North Carolina like the program’s second award winner – or professional clothing for joining professional organizations, travel money to ensure they have the ability to get back home for the holidays, and even gear they’ll need for dorm life. In summers, students will participate in paid internships at businesses and organizations in partnership with Elevation Scholars.

Over the next four years, Elevation Scholars, a new grantee partner of Johnson Scholarship Foundation, expects to expand into four additional schools and award 92 additional Elevation Scholar Awards by 2025.

Revel Lubin

To win an Elevation Scholar Award, it’s more than a matter of high achieving and high need, Lee says. The students selected also must exhibit Elevation Scholars’ core values – kindness, service, leadership, and discipline. “These kids have a unique set of strengths, and already are demonstrating positive community impact, and that’s really what we’re investing in,” Lee says. “The idea is ultimately to see our investment increase their capacity to impact their community.”

Since the program’s founding, seven cohorts of scholars have attended prestigious universities across the country.  And that first scholar, Revel Lubin, continues the journey he plotted under the guidance of Elevation Scholars. He’s a finalist for Central Floridian of the Year, and he attends Yale Divinity School.

“It’s amazing how many high-achieving leaders there are at our Title I schools,” Lee says.



Angie Francalancia is a communications specialist with Johnson Scholarship Foundation

 

How One School Offers an Education in Equity to a Whole City

As headlines across the country and data from a range of sources revealed this past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has not impacted everyone in the same way. In addition to disparate impacts on employment, food security, and health, communities of color have often also been impacted by unequal access to remote learning technology or in-person instruction and support.

While Nativity Prep’s students, families, and alumni have certainly faced significant challenges this past year, our school community is not new to the issue of inequity. For 30 years, Nativity has been providing a tuition-free, high-quality private educational opportunity to precisely the Boston communities that have been hit hardest in this past year.

However, it is our “from classroom to career” approach – providing an intensive extended-day, extended-year program for our fourth through eighth grade students and then lifetime graduate support programming to our alumni – that has made Nativity ready to address far more than educational inequity. In the wake of the racial unrest last summer, businesses and industries across the country have made public commitments to improving workforce diversity and building a more equitable business world. Our 30-year history has taught us that addressing economic inequity and workforce diversity starts much earlier than the hiring process. It is the combination of our rigorous educational program and extensive Graduate Support programming – made possible by support from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and partners – that prepares our students not just to access opportunities at top high schools on full scholarship, but also to gain the tools, character, and commitment needed to thrive in a business world that is not always equitable.

In a recent NBC10 Boston/NECN special feature, “An Education in Equity,” this connection between educational equity and workforce diversity was explored more deeply through the lens of Nativity Prep’s experience. The program featured prominent Black leaders in Boston: Lee Pelton, President of Emerson University and CEO-elect of the Boston Foundation; Linda Dorcena Forry. former state representative and VP for Diversity & Inclusion at Suffolk Construction; Michael Holley, NBC Sports Reporter; and several Nativity alumni, faculty, and students in conversation about Nativity Prep’s “from classroom to career” approach, which offers one valuable model for addressing the inequities that are more apparent today than ever.

Watch the entire segment by clicking the link here.


Brian Maher is President of Nativity Prep Academy.

 

San Carlos Apache Small Business Plan Competition Produces Sweet Success

Earlier this summer, I accepted an invitation to serve as one of five judges for the 2nd Annual San Carlos Apache Tribe Small Business Plan Competition. JSF supported this exercise as part of a two-year grant to the Center for American Indian Economic Development (CAIED) at Northern Arizona University in January of 2020.

Due to the pandemic, the competition was conducted over Zoom. During the week of October 12th, the judges received written business plans for the competing proposals. Contestants would pitch their proposals to judges on October 15th. Presentations were rated on marketing, product or service, competence, management capability, financial understanding and investment potential. Judges were further asked to provide written comments to the applicants. The format of the contest was modeled after the TV series “Shark Tank.”

The business ventures were varied in their industries, stages and development. They included a document scan and shred business, a coin laundromat, a children’s book proposal, a Native sewing business, a bead supply company and a sweet bread baker. Contestants were given 15 minutes to present their proposals and answer questions from the judges. All of the participants were well prepared, and the exercise was conducted well. The competition effectively promoted the intended purpose of encouraging entrepreneurial activity and education.

I was particularly struck by the resourcefulness and creativity of the applicants. The current pandemic has required them to pivot their work, and all of them had some measure of a successful testimony of adaptation. I was also struck by the resonating theme of community in all of their proposals. Many of them spoke of the benefit to others more than they addressed the viability or financial opportunity of their business. The winner was the Beaded Edge Supply with a business expansion proposal. You can see their business at www.beadededgesupply.com.

I was asked to forward a grateful thank you from the San Carlos Apache Tribe to JSF and all who participated. All participants received some remuneration. First place received $6,000 and sixth place received $100. Beaded Edge Supply will use the winning proceeds to offset the cost of a new facility to accommodate their growing business. For me, I left inspired, encouraged and appreciative for the opportunity to represent the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

But what happened next to one of the presenters makes it doubly rewarding. Frankie Holmes, the participant who made strawberry sweet bread, landed a major contract with Freeport McMoRan to provide his desserts to their employees. One of the judges works for Freeport, and was instrumental in making it happen.

Here’s Frankie’s story:

“I had heard of the business plan competition from the year before. Baking wasn’t even my thing. But writing a business plan is nothing new for me. I’ve done it numerous times.

“I hear back from the competition. They say, ‘You’re going to be presenting.’ But I didn’t get picked. I got a phone call saying I got, like fourth place. But prior to that, one of the judges reached out to me and said, ‘Your presentation was flawless. We’d like to place an order.’ I’m thinking she’s going to order like four or five loaves. No! She put in a giant order for her whole department! Now I have a contract with them for six months for their team building activities,” he said.

“Then, she put it on Facebook, and things just took off! Prior to the competition, I was doing like a few hundred (in sales) a week. Then, for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I had sales galore! Thanksgiving alone was over $3,000!

“Word of mouth is very viable down here,” said Holmes, who works in Globe-Miami, an area of sister cities east of Phoenix and west of the San Carlos Reservation with a population of less than 10,000.

Holmes is a personal banker with Wells Fargo who got into baking when COVID-19 hit the town, he said.

“It hit our little town big-time,” he said. “Our whole town shut down. The banks shut down. I was out of work. I figured I could sit here, sulk and cry, or be the guy I’ve always been and find a muse. I never heard of anybody making a strawberry sweet bread, so in one weekend, I did it.”

Congratulations, Frankie Holmes!


Robert Krause is CEO of Johnson Scholarship Foundation

Planning the College Search – Contemporary Considerations for an Exciting Next Step

This article first appeared in Mainstream News, a publication of JSF grantee partner Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech, and is shared with permission.

Applying to colleges can be a stressful, busy time for students — and a pandemic hasn’t made it any simpler. This year, the process has changed considerably to accommodate health precautions. Campus tours, in-person interviews, college fairs and visits from college representatives are on permanent hiatus. But with a little extra planning, students heading to college can still get all the information they need to make an informed decision.

Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech alum Max Collins, a high school senior and student athlete, has experience with the college search during a pandemic.

We spoke with Max Collins, a Clarke Philadelphia alum and current high school senior about what he learned during his recent college search experience. He also shared his advice for other students who are deaf or hard of hearing planning their own transitions to higher education.

Different Formats, Similar Results

Max’s junior year was marked by a challenging academic load and the cancellation of most of his spring track season. As a student athlete, running track and cross country, he’d gotten an early start on his college selection process in order to target schools with programs that would match his goals.

Max was able to visit two colleges before most schools closed to in-person visits. For the other schools, his visits consisted of a mix of virtual tours and Zoom-based question and answer sessions.

Despite the change in format, both Max and his dad, Danny Collins, feel they gained a good sense of all the colleges. “The virtual visits were actually a good way to learn more about the schools,” says Max. He felt that colleges with virtual tours were better able to individualize the information they shared in a way that wasn’t possible during in-person group tours.

Max wasn’t able to attend some of the traditional in-person events schools have for student athletes, but he was able to reach out directly to coaches who put him in touch with other athletes in his sport. Talking with them gave him a feel for potential future teammates and their routines.

Danny agrees. “Being there in person does give you a good sense of what the campus and atmosphere are like, but with the pandemic-related changes, we still had a chance to speak one-on-one with people and get to learn more about the nuts and bolts of things,” he says.

Assessing Priorities, Making Requests

As a student with hearing loss evaluating potential colleges, Max had to weigh all the usual factors in addition to assessing how well each school could accommodate his listening needs — not an easy task virtually.

Max first narrowed down his list of schools by those that felt like a good fit for his academic and athletic goals as well as being able to accommodate his hearing loss. “I had to ask myself: Do I want to go to a big school with a lecture hall of 300 students, or one with smaller classes of 10-15 students?” Max shares. “And I made sure they had a good office of accessibility, that I could get proper accommodations, and the website had a good explanation of what they offer [and] how they do it.”

The good news: Max says he hasn’t had any significant issues securing the accommodations he’ll need in future classes. He also notes that his in-person and virtual visits didn’t present any hearing-related challenges.

“The best advice I can give is to find each school’s office of accessibility, know where it is, exactly what services they offer and what you have to do to get those services,” says Danny. “It’s extremely beneficial to have that information.”

Danny also notes that while 504s and Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs) don’t apply in college, some schools will use them as an accommodations guide, and some won’t. “You have to have your ducks lined up and be willing to advocate for what the student needs,” he says. “Max’s ability to do that, and why he started this process so early, all goes back to Clarke and the way they instilled those self-advocacy skills in him.”

Learn more about things to consider when planning the college search by visiting: http://www.clarkeschools.org/services/mainstreamnews.


 Clarke provides children who are deaf or hard of hearing with the listening, learning and spoken language skills they need to succeed.

Achieve Palm Beach County Offers Online Workshops to Help College Students Destress and Find Success

Stress and online struggles are recurring themes among young people navigating a future that seems uncertain today and unimaginable just a year ago.

In fact, the same topics came up so frequently that an organization whose mission is to ensure post-graduate success for students in Palm Beach County has created a series of workshops as an immediate resource to those students.

Achieve Palm Beach County’s Achieve Your Success series begins on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, with a program titled, Techniques to Maintain Your Mental Health.

The series of five workshops is open to any college-age student in Palm Beach County, whether they’re enrolled, looking to enroll, or taking a break from education all together right now.

Achieve PBC is a collective impact initiative with more than 80 nonprofit, education, and corporate partners, including Johnson Scholarship Foundation, who work toward the common mission of helping students access and complete an education beyond high school. Achieve PBC’s vision is to see all students in Palm Beach County earn a credential or degree that leads to a job with a sustainable wage within six years of high school graduation.

“Students face challenges all the time. With the pandemic and social unrest, mental health is one of the large issues we’re hearing about – whether it’s financial strains, feelings of loneliness, or stress of online learning,” said Jennifer Bebergal, Associate Dean for Retention and Academic Support at FAU and co-chair of Achieve PBC’s Post-High School Advising & Guidance strategy team. “We put together this calendar of workshops, and our hope is for students to understand that what they’re going through is what a whole lot of students are experiencing. We’ll also talk about some strategies and resources available to them.”

The workshops will take place at 4 p.m. on Tuesdays every other week through April 13. Each one-hour workshop will be offered via Zoom, and there is no cost to attend. The full schedule and topics are:

Feb. 9 – Techniques to Maintain Your Mental Health

Feb. 23 – How to be Successful in Science, Math and Other Online Courses

March 9 – Self Care for Our Mental Health

March 23 – Ask an Advisor and Resource Fair

April 13 – Tips for Getting A Job and Jump-Starting Your Career

The first workshop will be conducted by Dr. Kathryn Kominars, Director of Counseling from Florida Atlantic University and Sandra Obas of Educate Tomorrow, a nonprofit that facilitates individualized coaching to improve students’ academics and economic stability. It will include strategies and resources available for dealing with mental health issues.

The second workshop will begin with a brief presentation, and then offer break-out rooms so students can work on specific areas, including tutorials in math and science.

For one-click access to any of the workshops, visit https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84169727665?pwd=MVhJZE1oTzB5OTh0U3BaWjE2Tldpdz09, or use the meeting ID 841 6972 7665 and passcode 206767.

For more information about Achieve PBC’s impact, or to learn how to get involved, visit AchievePBC.org or send an email to info@achievepbc.org.


Angie Francalancia is a communications specialist for Johnson Scholarship Foundation

Determination Overcomes a Disrupted Journey

Jamieson Holloway, now 23, has been pursuing his passion for cooking since he was a student at Atlanta’s D.M. Therrell High School, where he took culinary classes and enrolled in the Bridges from School to Work program (Bridges). Bridges has worked with Atlanta Public Schools since 1996 to help young adults with disabilities prepare for, connect to, and succeed in good jobs. Bridges arranged for Jamieson to work part-time for two consecutive seasons at Turner Field Stadium, where he excelled at frying chicken tenders, French fries, and other stadium fare for hungry Atlanta Braves fans during the baseball season.

After high school, he continued to pursue his goal of becoming a chef, taking culinary courses at Atlanta Technical College. And like many chefs before him, Jamieson’s culinary career began in earnest through washing dishes. With help from Bridges, he got a dishwasher job at the Atlanta Hilton downtown in fall 2016, progressing from there to food prep and breakfast cook, and working through spring of 2020 until the pandemic hit. Since then, he’s been on furlough, but he landed full-time work as a line cook at a local senior living community, a job he found on his own. Jamieson’s continued employment and income have been essential for his family during the pandemic.

Jamieson hopes to return to the Hilton when the travel and tourism industry begins to rebound. He has also developed his own blend of barbeque sauce that he hopes one day to market and distribute as a successful entrepreneur.

For his hard work and determination, Jamieson was selected as the 2020 Stephen G. Marriott Youth Achievement Honoree. He shares his story in the video below:


Allen Brown is the Director of Grants and Project Development for Bridges from School to Work. He has worked with Bridges for 19 years.

The First Steps to Success – Commitment

The following is an essay from a student in the Johnson Take Stock Program. He shares his thoughts of commitment to college.

College ‒ a goal my family had set for me long before I knew how to read. College used to be something I never thought I’d reach. As a child I never thought I would be stepping out into the world without my parents’ complete guidance and assistance. Frankly the thought of transitioning into adulthood is still frightening. My name is Steven Portillo, and this is the story of my life, my aspirations, and a declaration of my future success.

College means the world to me, now more than ever. My goal since I was young was to eventually start a family, to be able to provide for my family, and to be able to put a smile on as many faces as possible. As a young boy this dream seemed nearly impossible, but yet, so many people have managed to put themselves in the position I dreamed of. How? At a young age I started listening to motivational speeches and reading novels on financial success. If I am to become those who I idolize, I must first understand what they did, and follow in their footsteps. Mankind has never achieved anything great without the information and assistance of others. Knowledge was meant to be shared for the prosperity of all. This leads to a fundamental part to my future success, and that’s the support systems I’ve been blessed with.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to be a JTSP scholar. Without these amazing people, I would have struggled much more with constructing a plan to go to college and to further myself in life. Support from my family, friends, and even strangers has allowed me to conquer obstacles I never believed existed. I believe it is my duty to share my support and knowledge with others. Prosperity should be something that everyone can obtain. I believe in the “Pursuit of happiness.” Success to me is so much more than money. Success is to be able to not only provide for yourself but to be able to support others through their struggles.

I am declaring now, I WILL be successful. I will work my hardest, even when others say it’s foolish.  I am determined to become my best self, and in the future I will continue to make goals, because I never want to stop growing. Motivation always starts with yourself. I remember the first time I attempted to work out. Oh my, what an experience! This was an attempt at a long term goal that required dedication and determination. I will never forget the first time I was able to lift 200 lbs. When I first started I could only lift 100. This was when I knew that these types of results could be applied to other parts of my life. Work while others are resting. Work now so that later you can enjoy the spoils of life. Your future is what you make of it. If you’re determined to make it to your destination, you’ll get there. You just have to believe in the process.

I am Steven Portillo, and this is the story of who I am, who I want to be, and the success I am sure to obtain in my future.


Steven Portillo is a senior at William T. Dwyer High School and a Johnson Take Stock Scholar.

 

Construction Internships Lead to Stronger Workforce and More Homes

The South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition (SDNHC) established the Construction Internship Program  with a two-fold goal of expanding the capacity of Native-owned contractors and strengthening the employment-ready workforce.

The creative partnership was formed in 2017 and designed to provide training in the construction field for students. Fulfilling this goal works in tandem with helping the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition fulfill the ultimate goal of increasing the housing stock on South Dakota’s Native American Indian reservations.

Since many Native construction companies are small operations without significant margins, the SDNHC Construction Internship Program removed some of the risk for the companies to take on new hires. It enabled the contractors to hire new employment-ready interns who would have the chance to prove themselves over the course of the summer internship.

Despite logistical setbacks brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the partnership has met or exceeded most of its goals.

We set out to enroll 50 college students in the SDNHC Construction Internship Program to participate during the summer of 2019. During the last two summers, we had 88 interns enroll in the program. They were disbursed across four sites – Cheyenne River, Sisseton, Rosebud and Pine Ridge.

Brent Tallman, one of the interns participating in the program, was offered a full-time position mid-way through his internship. Above, participants at Sisseton test the integrity of a harness during a safety training.

Over the course of the two-year program, we worked with 25 contractors for placement of the interns. But in addition, the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition Contractor Workshop has become a must-attend event for local Native contractors from all across the state. Held annually in Rapid City in February, the workshop provides contractors with information useful to their industry, including topics such as workman’s compensation insurance, performance bonding, and the HUD 184 validation process. We use the event to recognize and celebrate the contractors, interns and supporters of this intensive work.

In 2019, 82 percent of the interns completed the program, well-exceeding the 75 percent goal. In 2020, we’re thrilled to have a 62 percent retention rate – given the challenges presented by COVID-19. Although none of our interns participating this year tested positive for COVID to our knowledge, many were placed on quarantine due to exposure, which interrupted their participation.

Another success was the Financial Literacy component, in which 100 percent of the interns participated. Classes were held bi-weekly to correspond with paydays, and all the interns learned the value of automated banking when the Lakota Funds staff was under quarantine. We were able to pay the interns safely, and without risk of exposure utilizing ACH payments.

The program has resulted in permanent employment for many of the interns, completing the fulfillment of increased capacity among the Native-owned contractors.

Many partners came together to make this project possible. In addition to participating colleges and the Lakota Funds, other participants were the Cheyenne River Housing Authority, the Enterprise Community Partners, Johnson Scholarship Foundation, Native Connections, Oglala Sioux Lakota Housing, Sicangu Nation Education and Training Program, Sisseton Wahpeton 477 Program, Sisseton Wahpeton Housing Authority and Sicangu Wicoti Awanyakapi Corporation.


The South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition is a collaborative group of key agencies dedicated to increasing homeownership opportunities for Native Americans in the state of South Dakota.

 

 

An Interview with I. King Jordan – Deaf President Now, the ADA, and the future for Disability Rights

We talked recently with I. King Jordan Jr., whose story of advocating for the rights of individuals with disabilities spans more than 30 years and traverses the halls of Gallaudet University, the nation’s leading university for the education of students who are deaf and hard of hearing.  Jordan, a consultant on disability programs for Johnson Scholarship Foundation, shares some of his history, including his memories of the historic year when he became Gallaudet’s first deaf president. We also talked about advancements and continuing challenges for the deaf and others 30 years after the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

AF: Tell me about the technology that makes our call possible.

KJ:  It’s called video relay service interpreting (VRS).  The simple explanation is when I dial your number, instead of the phone calling you, it calls the interpreter, and interpreter then calls you. I talk directly to you and you hear me. When you talk, the interpreter signs what you say, and I see her. And it’s just the most wonderful technology going. It’s just terrific. I never used a phone from 1965 until about 15 years ago (2005). I would sometimes have to go ask my neighbor to make a phone call for me. Now I can make phone calls from pretty much anywhere.

AF: I figured technology plays a big part in advancements for people who are deaf.

KJ: It’s a huge part. Its simple things…well simple now, but things like captions on TV. For the longest time, there were no captions on TV. In my family, we have a joke that we watched Love Boat and Fantasy Island every Sunday. They were terrible shows, but we watched because they were captioned.

Not all captioning is good. In fact, some is borderline atrocious. You can test it yourself. Turn on your television; turn on a news show, like Chris Matthews. Turn on captions but with no sound and tell me how much you can understand. Speech recognition captioning is getting better and better, and in time, I’m hoping it will improve.

AF: What percent of deaf people can speak as you do?

KJ: It’s not a large percentage. People like me are called deafened. There are two distinct categories – people who are born deaf and people who become deaf later. The later you become deaf, the more you are acculturated into hearing culture. My primary language is English. I can sign American Sign Language and understand ASL. But when I make a VRS call, I ask the interpreter to interpret in English so I understand exactly what you’re saying. In some deaf circles, it’s frowned on to speak.

When I first became president of Gallaudet, I was discouraged to speak in public. But I have very strongly taken the position that there are many ways to be deaf and many ways to communicate. All of them should be respected, and a person’s choice should be respected.

AF: Before preparing for this interview, I had never heard the term, Deaf Culture. I found it interesting that there are people who would like to see it considered a difference, not a disability.

KJ: Deafness is a difference, and while people who are deaf can’t hear, we can pretty much do anything else. One thing that bothers deaf people and bothers me is the paternalism or condescending that happens. Don’t be sorry for me. Just look at me when you speak and try to think of what I can do, not what I can’t do.

AF: You’re best known at Gallaudet’s first deaf president. Tell me about what happened at Gallaudet that year.

I. King Jordan in 1988

KJ: Oh yeah. It was a remarkable time. When the position was announced, people started to contact me to encourage me to think about applying. Everybody in my family was 100 percent supportive. So I was a very serious candidate. (I prepared like) it was graduate school for me. I read tons of materials, then brought together a group of friends to help me prepare for my interviews. I don’t know how many applicants there were originally, maybe 100; then they narrowed down to 12. It was announced that 6 were deaf and 6 were hearing.

The students started to rally for the next president being a deaf person. (It came to be called the Deaf President Now (DPN) movement.) Then there were 6 semi-finalists; 3 hearing and 3 deaf. All six were brought in for interviews. Then it was narrowed to 3. Of the 3, two were deaf and one was hearing. The hearing candidate was vice chancellor at UNC Greensboro. She was a very experienced higher education administrator; much more experience than I; but she didn’t have any experience with deaf people. I believe her undergraduate degree was in nursing; at one point people thought she would come with the medical view of deafness not the cultural view.

The three of us met with the board. I thought I did really well. I told my wife I thought I had a good chance. The next day, I got a call from the deaf man who was chair of the search committee. He gave me a short, maybe two sentence message:  The board has decided to select someone else. Thank you for your candidacy.

AF: So that’s what launched the protests?

KJ: I was home, but on campus, the students and faculty were ready to celebrate. The press release the University handed out said, “GU selects first female president.” They had selected the only hearing candidate, Dr. Elisabeth Zinser, vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. You can imagine that press release didn’t set well with those hundreds of people gathered on campus.

One great visual from that day of protests is a police officer who was trained to work with demonstrations. First thing he does is pull out a bull horn. Of course everybody’s deaf. And people who are not deaf, they won’t interpret for him.

At that point, the group decided to march through the city streets to the Mayflower Hotel where the Board of Trustees was staying. Once they (police) saw they couldn’t control the march, they basically provided a police escort. They had a car in front to protect the marchers and a car behind. At the hotel, the chairman of the board (of trustees) agreed to see a few of the people who had marched. One came out of the meeting and reported (that the Board of Trustees chair said) “Deaf people are not ready to function in the hearing world.”

That was Sunday, March 6, 1988. That really started the protests. Students, staff, alumni went back to the campus. They chained all the gates closed. They even hotwired a school bus and drove it across the entrance and flattened its tires.

The protest went on for basically a week.

I’ll give you a couple highlights:

On Wednesday I got a phone call from the provost telling me that the president-elect (Dr. Zinser) was in town and that she wanted to meet with the leaders of the protest. The provost wanted me to put her together with the leaders. She wanted to tell them what she would do as president. I went onto campus.

The group agreed, but said, “We will allow her to meet with the four student leaders, but she can’t come on campus. We’ll rent a hotel room. Then you and Dr. Zinser can come.” Then a Gallaudet University driver came and took me and Dr. Zinser to the hotel. Actually, it was a small motel room. So there was a bed and one chair, four student leaders, me, Dr. Zinser and an interpreter. The students were polite. They said, “We don’t have anything against you; we don’t dislike you, but we will never allow you to become the president of Gallaudet. If you think the four of us could make that happen you’re mistaken.” We met for maybe less than an hour.  They basically said, “Dr. Zinser, we’re talking in circles now. We’re done, period.” In American Sign Language, that period – that’s a very emphatic sign. It was more like an exclamation point than a period.

AF: What was the turning point?

KJ: The turning point may have been ABC’s Nightline. The host, Ted Koppel, welcomed and interviewed the president of the student governing association, Greg Hlibok who was one of the student leaders, and the president-elect, Dr. Elisabeth Zinser, and Marlee Matlin, a deaf actor. Don’t ask me why they had Marlee Matlin! Perhaps because she was a famous deaf person. There was one great line during the show when the host said something like, ‘This is very confusing. We have a deaf man, and his interpreter who is voicing for him is a woman. We have a deaf woman, and the interpreter who is voicing for her is a man.” It was actually kind of funny! Greg just won the night. He was articulate, thoughtful. That was Thursday night.

On Friday morning, Dr. Zinser announced her resignation. It was clear she would never be welcome on campus. So the board came back to Washington DC. The short of it is they offered it to me. I actually had to think about it because I knew there would be enemies on the board. How can a president succeed if he doesn’t have the full support on the board? The only way I would accept was if it was made clear that the board vote to appoint me was unanimous and that I would have their full support. That was Sunday, March 13.

We then had an impromptu press conference. I made a statement. When that was over, we all went back to campus.

There was a club on campus called the Rathskeller. Everybody was there. The juke box was on and jacked up to max volume so everyone could feel the vibration. Everybody was partying. You could see representatives from the press celebrating. They were 100 percent on the side of the students.

Bridgetta Bourne-Firl, who had participated in the 1988 Deaf President Now movement, greets I. King Jordan during a visit to Gallaudet University in 2017.

I’d like to say something about the Board of Trustees. Some members of the board were medical doctors. They understood deafness from a medical point. The board conducted its business by voice and sound. They were nearly all hearing people.

I often say it wasn’t really a protest. It was a revolution. One of the things that happened very much like in a revolution was the board was radically changed and soon had a majority of deaf members. For my entire presidency there were interpreters, but they were there for the hearing people.

I am able to sit in a conversation with deaf people in which only ASL is used. When I’m in that group, my voice stops. Then I’m signing more like a deaf person but because I learned sign in my 20s, I’ll never be fully fluent (as deaf people who learned ASL as young children)

AF: I think you were uniquely suited because of your ability to communicate in both ASL and spoken English.

KJ: It’s more than just two languages. It’s an effort I made for all 19 years to try really hard to build bridges. Here’s one example:  There’s an organization called the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. They are very strong supporters of spoken language and listening skills. When I communicate in public, I use what is called ‘simultaneous communication.’ That means that I speak and map signs onto my spoken English. When I first became president there were a couple vacancies on the board that needed to be filled by deaf people. I persuaded the board to elect the sitting president of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf. So, they agreed and selected him. I got a lot of flak for that. There’s a group of people called Strong Deaf who were very acculturated in the Deaf Culture who wanted to keep it small and protect it. I wanted to widen it.

I think everyone realized that there was now a deaf president, and while I may not have been everybody’s first choice, and many would have preferred someone who was born deaf and grew up deaf, I was strong about my deafness and accepting of my deafness. Pretty much everyone wanted to support me.

Perhaps the most important result was the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA had been sitting in committees in Congress. And DPN sort of kick-started the ADA. Both sponsors of the ADA – Tom Harkin (D., Iowa), and Anthony Coelho (D., Calif) – the sponsors both said without DPN the ADA probably never would have happened.

AF: Let’s talk about the ADA. Where have we gone and what needs to happen next?

KJ: That’s a painful thing for me because the employment of people who are disabled is just as bad today as when the ADA was passed. The recognition that people with disabilities have strong abilities is not in people’s minds. The problem is everyone is emphasizing the dis in disability. Why can’t you focus on the ability, not the dis! When they think about deaf people, they think about the fact that you can’t hear, not what you can do.

I guess the whole issue of attitude still hasn’t changed enough. We’re always going be second-class citizens. In many respects I’m not “equal to.” I’m “better than.” I’ll settle for “equal to.”

AF: Will advances in technology help?

KJ: It will help. There are ways that technology can be used in communication – obviously improved ways for communication. Statistically, there’s all kinds of evidence that disabled employees make good employees. Often times their attendance and work records are better, and still people are hesitant to hire them – still so many people who can’t get over that mental barrier.  They don’t think that a person will bring the skills that they need.

AF: What about the cost of technology? Would it be a problem for a deaf person born into a lower income family?

One of the things the ADA stipulates is that employers and the public sector must make reasonable accommodations. If you hire someone who is deaf, you might need to hire an interpreter or purchase video relay equipment. National associations have shown that the cost of accommodations is small. You make this reasonable accommodation, and it often ends up benefiting more than the people who are disabled.

One example is something we mentioned earlier, captions. When the captions are good, a person learning English as a second language can listen and read at the same time. Another example where captions really help is in sports bars. You can’t possibly have the sound on at all because they’d be overlapping each other. With captions, of course everyone benefits.

Another example is curb cuts. They’re required by law now so people who use wheelchairs can navigate sidewalks. But much more frequently they’re used by people pushing baby carriages or on bicycles or skate boards.

AF: What was Gallaudet like right after DPN in your first years? 

KJ: For the first couple years we were really at an enrollment maximum of 2,400 or 2,500. We really couldn’t fit any more. I understand the numbers are going down now. For quite some time, it was really high. For me, first day of class and day of commencement are highlights. I know so many who have gone on to different careers. That makes me feel really good.

AF: Tell me about changes you made once you were president

KJ: When I earned my Ph. D. in 1973, the number of people who were deaf who had Ph. Ds. was just a handful. I mean it was really, really small. I realized it’s difficult for deaf people to go to graduate school and work as graduate assistants or research assistants because of issues with interpreters. I set up a program where students who were attending Ph. D. programs at other universities could apply and receive from Gallaudet a stipend that was much the same as a stipend would be for a teaching assistant at that university. I established the program and called it Presidential Scholars. Several people who participated in the program have completed their Ph. Ds. That was one I was really, really proud of.

AF: Tell me about your graduate school experience at the University of Tennessee. Wasn’t that your first experience away from the deaf community?

KJ:  It was a big challenge. Back then (fall of 1969) there were not really a lot of professional interpreters. I was thrust into a situation where I just made do – I did the best I could without interpreters. Part of the down side of speaking well is that when people hear me speak, they assume, “He must be able to hear something.” I’m not really good at lip reading, and I couldn’t count on teachers facing the class.

So I came up with my own solution. I would ask students in the class if they would be willing to give me a copy of their notes. I gave them notebooks with carbon paper. At first it was rather awkward, but people soon realized they took better notes. And I always asked 3 people to do it. So at the end of each class I had three copies of notes. As it turned out after the year, we would have study groups, and the study groups used my notes. It worked out OK!

It’s a little ironic because the University of Tennessee has a department of deaf education where they prepare students to become teachers of the deaf. But I was in the School of Arts and Sciences, and there was no help from the Department of Education. I finished in 4 years ‒ from B.A. to M.A. and Ph. D.

King Jordan visits with staff at the Philadelphia campus of Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech, a Johnson Scholarship Foundation grantee partner, in 2018.

AF: Let’s go back to the ADA. Where do we need to go from here?

KJ: How we do it, I wish I had a good answer. But as far as where ‒ we need to reach a place where people who are disabled and seeking work have an opportunity to be employed. We’re not there. Interesting, one of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation grantees is Bridges from School to Work. Their success is absolutely amazing. They’re able to pair an individual student with an individual employer representative and the employer. The employer representative who works for Bridges, he or she continues to follow the employee and works with the employee. That success rate is unbelievable. About 80 percent get jobs. There’s nothing like that anywhere else. But it’s expensive. So it’s not a model that is easy to replicate or take to scale. But there are organizations that are doing wonderful things.

I believe that if more of the people in the C-suite offices understand the value, then more and more people (with disabilities) will be hired. One of the sayings I’m very proud of is that “Deaf people can do anything except hear.”

Remember the press conference I mentioned? I was named president on Sunday March 13, and on Monday, there was a press conference. The university auditorium was packed with reporters. It was standing-room only. At first I was nervous, but they asked me easy questions. In retrospect, I’m sure they were deliberately soft questions. I called them puffballs, easy questions. I was standing behind a podium with probably more than 15 microphones attached to it. Then at the very end, a local TV reporter said something like, “Dr. Jordan, all of this is really good and all the students clearly value that. But really, after they graduate what kind of jobs can they do?”

Without even thinking about it, I said, “What kind of a question is that! Deaf people can do anything except hear.”


Angie Francalancia is a communications specialist for Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

Forever Grateful for My Support System – Family, Friends, and Johnson Take Stock

The following is an essay from a student in the Johnson Take Stock Program. She shares her story and path to college as 2020 comes to a close.

First of all, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Shelly, and I will hopefully be the first to go to college in the United States in my family because they did their education in Cuba. I came when I was 7 years old, and at that time I was in second grade. Then I went to middle school and now I am a junior at Forest Hill High School. I have many colleges that I would love to go to, such as UM, UCF, FIU, and many more. I would love to go to a college near home so I could see my grandparents as much as possible. My goal is to make myself and them proud of everything I hope to achieve.

Additionally, going to college would mean so much to me and my family. I have always worked hard and tried my best in school by always doing well in my classes and being involved in school activities. Getting a good education is the best opportunity ever given to me. I can use this to have a good career that I enjoy and that will never make me stress about not having enough money to pay the bills. Growing up in a not the wealthiest family brings many life lessons that open your eyes and encourage you to take your education seriously so that you don’t have to go through the same thing your family did since you were given a better chance. This is why going to college would mean so much to me. I will have a stable future that I hope will allow me to give back to those who gave to me. These life challenges and many others help me shape my values and open my eyes to appreciate everything I have around me because not everyone has the same opportunity or conditions.

Furthermore, my goal is to find as much financial help to pay for college, so that neither my family nor I will need to stress about paying for my education, and that’s why I am so grateful to be part of the Johnson Take Stock family. They have supported me in many ways. I am grateful for all the activities, workshops, community service opportunities, events, etc. that Johnson Take Stock lets me be a part of. They always teach me something new, and I enjoy going to them since I have a fun time. I joined Johnson Take Stock back in my freshman year, and I have met so many kind people who just want to genuinely help you. Thanks to Johnson Take Stock, I know that if I keep following my side of the contract they will help me pay for my first years of college, and this is the biggest support I could ever receive from them. My other support systems are my family and friends. They help me make decisions, and this is a big help because I am so indecisive. They motivate me to keep working hard because it is all worth it at the end of the day. They also support me by congratulating my achievements which makes me feel good. Another support system I have are my teachers and guidance counselors because I know they are there for me if I ever need to talk to someone, and they just want the best for their students.

In conclusion, going to college would mean a lot to me and my family, and that is why I will always keep working hard to reach my goals. I am forever grateful for my support systems which are my family, friends, Johnson Take Stock family, and the staff at my school. All of the challenges I face will always just make me stronger so I am grateful for those, as well.


Shelly Cruz is a junior at Forest Hill High School. She has been a participant in the Johnson Take Stock  Program since her freshman year in high school.