“When I was growing up I thought we were rich because we had a Lincoln and a two-story house. A few years ago, I was talking with my mama about how rich we were. She said we’re not rich. When we ate at Grandma’s house it was because we didn’t have food. The pretty clothes We wore came from yard sales. My daddy put our house up to build a church and sacrificed everything for that church. We went on food stamps and welfare just so we could make it. There were four kids in my family and my mama never knew where our Christmas was going to come from but it came every year.
It bothers me that kids today know that they are poor and that the lights are about to be cut off. Kids don’t need to know they are poor, that steals the joy of their childhood. There is so much stress and worry over what they don’t have and it is why they are robbing, killing and prostituting.They know if you call the cops, there is a chance they aren’t coming. They know they shouldn’t drink the water in Prichard. Some three and four year olds have seen more than I have seen in my lifetime. I am a fanatic over early childhood education and started Lighthouse Academy in Prichard because I want to give kids a better way. The earlier we do that, the better off they will be. My teachers dress and act professionally because that is the example we want to give.
If we have a tea, I expect every child to have a parent or someone there because everything we do here is important. We are preparing them for elementary school and high school. This school is their outlet and a place for hope and to feel safe for eight hours a day. We teach each child from where they are and build on their interest and knowledge. We cater to the whole family, starting with pregnant moms. We even help them with clothes, furniture or somewhere to go. The parents set goals with us such as getting a job or a GED and we help them reach those goals. We teach them how to change a diaper and play with their child. Each parent volunteers four hours a month so they have ownership in our school. We expect more from them because we want what is best for their kids. We will have a counselor come in and get through to some of the parents. Someone has to have a backbone and speak the truth. Most of our parents have had a bad life and want better for their kids. It takes people who care to get through.
My dad is a pastor in Grand Bay and opened a daycare 25 years ago for people in his congregation to have a safe place for their kids while they went to work. We had to work there all of the time when we were growing up. I thought I was going to be a nurse because I wanted to take care of people. After hurricane Katrina, people of all ethnicities came to the daycare and it grew quickly. My dad called my boss and told him I was to come home, that was my last day at work and I would not be back. I was crazy enough to do what my daddy said. He told me, ‘I see farther than you,’ and he was right. My sister was the business side and I was the communicator. My dad made us share an office and said we are better together. This is the first time we aren’t sharing an office. It is strange without her, we leaned on each other.
My dad also made us set goals for ourselves and complete them every year. I still do that Last year it was getting healthcare benefits for my teachers. This year we are working on a 401K package. My personal goal is to lose weight and I have lost 36 pounds. I cut out bread and sugar.
Our family owned this building for over 20 years. It was a church and I told my sister that we needed to get this building and show this community new ways to do early childhood. You can’t teach children now the way you did 30 years ago. Seven days later the pastor who was here called my dad and told him he wanted to get his own church. I told my dad this was the opportunity to open a school and God had opened the door. When we were preparing the building, a man rode by on a bike and came back and gave me $50. He said he could feel something good was going to happen here. A lot of people did that. We are going on two years now.
It was hard being a preacher’s kid. I am 42 and still a preacher’s kid. We grew up in a fishbowl and everyone watched what we did. I love to give and want to achieve great things but I have dealt with mean people while doing those. Instead of celebrating success, people try to pull you down and make you come out of character. I just want to do great things and it is not about money. We should be helping each other reach goals. The more you try to do, the more some people pull you down. People come together for a moment and then go back their separate ways. We have to find common ground in this community or it will never get better.
Our school promotes literacy because I believe in books and black kids. There is a saying that ‘If you want to hide something from a black man, put it in a book.’ I want to kill that saying. Our children get three or four books a month and parents talk about getting bookshelves at home. We never get enough books. I am out of books now.
A lot is riding on this. There is a childcare center on every corner and last year I helped write the bill requiring all childcare centers to have a license to protect the health and safety of children. People saw we were different and they came. We were full before six months and we turn down kids every day. It hurts to turn people away and one day I want a bigger building because I want to help all of these families. These kids are going to be doctors, lawyers, and teachers. My daddy was right to say that this is my calling. It means so much to impact people so small.”
How you can help Lighthouse Academy:
Donate books. The students are ages six weeks to 12 years and the school has books in every corner and also gives them to students. If they are used, please make sure they are in good shape with no torn pages
Make a contribution for a scholarship. Lighthouse Academy is education and a positive force in one of the poorest cities in Alabama. An education like this can set kids on the right path and break the cycle of poverty, dropout rates, and prison, one child at a time. Message me if you would like to help provide a scholarship to a child whose family can’t afford the school.