Yusuf Nessary's Jumpstart Fundraiser Speech

My parents fled Afghanistan as refugees in 1980 to raise their children in a safer environment away from the effects of war. Once they arrived here, they were set up to live on Crenshaw Blvd. in Gardena, California, located in South Central Los Angeles. I grew up in a low-income community and attended a school that consisted mostly of minority students. The quality of teaching was poor and the school was entirely fenced off with barbed wire and gated windows. One of my most vivid memories of elementary school is the frequent alarm warnings meant to warn students and staff of intruding gangs on campus.

I constantly found myself one step behind others in reading and vocabulary comprehension. English wasn’t my first language and school was even more difficult for me because no one else spoke Farsi in my class. My lack of understanding of books and letters affected my performance across all subjects. My self-confidence was low. As you know, reading comprehension is a huge aspect of Jumpstart, and one of the things I love most about Jumpstart is that it instills the confidence I lacked as a young student. Confidence is essential for building the determination these young children need to overcome the obstacles that stand between them and their goals.

I had no one else to turn to as a young student, so my older sister, Zohra, took on the role of my mentor, very much like a Jumpstart corps member. The tremendous effect that she had on my education made me realize how big a difference one person can make. I know the feeling of being ostracized because of a language barrier. I’ve experienced the helplessness of not having the resources and opportunities to reach my academic potential. My story is similar to the stories of the students in my Jumpstart class, and this is the reason behind my decision to join the Jumpstart program.

When my father’s job transferred, I moved to Houston, Texas, at the age of 11. I attended a school with more resources; individualized teaching, anecdotal notes, repetition of material, and most importantly, teachers that cared. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to move out of a low-income neighborhood and into an area where the school system gave students a chance at making a future for themselves. However, the sad reality of it is that many children from low-income families don’t have this opportunity, and programs like Jumpstart are crucial to the development of their education. Jumpstart lays the foundation for success. It gives them a chance to continue in the pursuit of an education, and by doing so it enables them to break the cycle of poverty.

I work with a 5-year-old student named Taevion and this is his second year with Jumpstart. His comprehension of stories, phonemic awareness and alphabet knowledge has advanced immensely. When he first attended our class he wasn’t able to identify all of the letters in his first name and now he’s able to write his full name without looking at his name-card. He’s the alpha male in our classroom and previously it was very difficult to calm him down because he is full of energy, but now when we ask the children for listening ears with our “pitty pitty-pat pat” song he is the first student to help us lead. His obvious knowledge of the Jumpstart routine signifies his comfort with discipline. Taevion has been an inspiration for me.

Before I joined Jumpstart, I was told to think carefully because it was a huge commitment, especially for a pre-med student like myself. I don’t qualify for work-study [employment], so I would be required to volunteer my time. I accepted the challenge and I haven’t looked back. Knowing that I have the opportunity to become a doctor one day is a feeling so gratifying that I want to share it with my students and let them know that I was one of them and that anything is possible through hard work and dedication.

I know this because my father once told me that on the third day after he came to this country he cut his welfare and food stamp benefits because he didn’t believe in not working for what he earned. He never wanted anything free in life. I want to instill this sense of self-sufficiency into my students as he instilled it in me. It takes many of us together to work toward the day that every child in America enters school prepared to succeed.

Thank you for all that you do.