Invisible Children

Marian Wright Edelman: President, Children’s Defense Fund Posted: 08/09/2013 2:31 pm

I would say that, well, obviously my high school didn’t prepare me for college.” –Darryl Briggs, youth leader and college student

The third of five boys born in the Bronx to a single mother who dropped out of high school, Darryl Briggs was starting out with at least two strikes against him. Growing up poor, Black, and bright in the Bronx without guidance, by the time he got to high school he already felt completely ignored, almost invisible. Darryl’s high-poverty high school was eight floors overflowing with 8,000 students and an obvious lack of resources: “There were easily 35 students to a classroom and there weren’t even 35 desks in the classroom for the 35 students to sit in . . .  there was one lab in the entire school.” The physical conditions discouraged learning, but for Darryl, the worst part was the lack of one-on-one attention. His classes were uninteresting and way too easy. None of the teachers noticed his potential and need for academic challenges, or even noticed him at all. When he skipped class, no one asked why. When he started hanging out with the “wrong crowd,” no one told him that wasn’t a good idea.

When he was 15 Darryl ran away from home and got arrested and sentenced to two months in juvenile detention centers. When he tried to go back to high school, school officials said without guidance and support he couldn’t come back. They suggested he get a G.E.D. Soon he was arrested again. The turning point for Darryl was getting involved as a community organizer, finding a mentor, and going through leadership training programs.

A friend introduced him to a community organizing group where Darryl met the person he now calls his lifetime mentor and found his calling making a positive difference for other young people. He became a youth program coordinator for a nonprofit organization, For a Better Bronx, focused on combating youth and environment disparities in the South Bronx, and discovered he wanted to get his G.E.D. and continue his education. Darryl recently graduated from Bronx Community College and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work at Lehman College. He chose social work because it offers an opportunity for him to continue making the one-on-one connections he missed so much. An alumnus and current national trainer for the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)’s Young Advocate Leadership Training (YALT) program, Darryl was a panelist at the Educational Testing Service-CDF’s June symposium in a session on “Lived Experience” which helped participants understand the struggles young Black males face and supports they need in the high school years. Darryl’s ideas about what works come partly from his personal experience with what didn’t work in the all-too-common schools like the one he dropped out of.

Darryl feels strongly that one caring adult can make all the difference. “That’s what I was lacking as far as my high school experien