Laughter echoes through the doors, music thumps in the background, smiles and wais greet me as I step into the classroom. This select group of elite students waits patiently as we set up for my Powerpoint presentation while many others mill around and play outdoors. When I ask for volunteers, hands shoot up in the air. When I ask them to be leaders, they jockey and vie for positions. Even the shy ones smile and allow themselves to be recommended. Everywhere, you feel the air of promise: of confidence and pride and hope.
When I started working with The SOLD Project four and a half years ago, this was not the scene. In those early days at the Resource Center, a small cadre of young, bright children would come to play every day, grateful for the attention but unsure of the world and their place in it. When I called them to class, they came eagerly but had been trained not to ask questions, nor participate too loudly. Each question I asked was met with silence and nervousness. When I asked them about their dreams, I got canned responses. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I asked. Teacher, teacher, teacher, nurse, teacher, they responded. Fine professions indeed, but it was clear their worlds were so small this was all they knew.
Now, when you ask them what they want to be when they grow up, you hear everything from airline steward to architect, doctors to police detectives, and more. They are unafraid to share their dreams, and they are astoundingly eloquent in sharing their fears about barriers to their dreams, whether it be about getting the right grades, the competitiveness of the field, or even things like social discrimination against gender identity. When you ask them to step up to the plate, they are ready and excited to play ball.
Four years ago, these children were like tender green shoots struggling to make root. Today, they are like multicolored violets and daisies, chrysanthemums, and peonies turning their bright faces toward the sun and filling the air with the perfume of their fervor. The SOLD Project may have fertilized the soil, but it’s these children who chose and chose again to overcome a lifetime of fear, hardship, oppression, and poverty, and had the courage to blossom and bloom. Imagine how much duller the world would be without them. We are grateful every day they continue steadfast in their glory.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”