On graduation day 2013 for Franklin Academy in Tallahassee, the sanctuary at Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church was packed with 1,500 guests who came to support the small private school’s 24 graduates.
But there were two students who brought the guests to their feet.
School Principal and Founder Margaret Franklin told the crowd, she had never done this before, and then called Demonte Thomas, 18, and his father, Mario, 40, to walk together down the aisle to receive their diplomas.
It was a day for Mario that was a long time coming, and one that almost didn’t come for Demonte.
By 11th grade, Demonte was failing at his neighborhood school, which led his parents to secure a Step Up For Students Scholarship for him to attend Franklin Academy, where his brother was already attending and thriving. (The tax credit scholarships are sometimes called private school vouchers; they’re administered by Step Up, which co-hosts this blog.) But Demonte was still not committed to his future, and when his father tried to give him advice, he’d brush it off.
Mario was terrified his son would end up on the street where as a younger man he spent many years as a member of a local gang, and survived being shot twice before realizing he had to change his ways or end up dead.
Mario looked to the school for help with his son, and Principal Franklin reached out to Demonte regularly, but her words didn’t seem to be getting through.
“Demonte came in as a child not really respecting his father,” she said. “He kept saying he (his father) didn’t even have a diploma.”
And that was all about to change. Continue Reading →