The Other 1%

According to The White House and American Bar Association, only about 1% of students with incarcerated mothers graduate from college. You read that correctly – 1%.

I grew up in Newton, and my own mom served nearly three years in prison during my late teen and college years, so I’ve got a pretty good understanding of the difficulties that lead to such high levels of failure. It was a tough time that taught me many invaluable lessons, and the bottom line is that no one makes it without consistent, individualized and uplifting support. I was able to become one of the 1% because at each transitional step in my life, I was very fortunate to be given opportunities that took me far away from the dysfunctions that lead to such high college failure rate amongst kids with incarcerated mothers. As a result of the opportunities that I was given, I was not only able to develop the skill set and motivation to graduate from the University of Richmond in 2009, but these opportunities also formed a solid foundation that helped me eventually graduate from law school in 2015.

In my opinion, addressing such daunting statistics as the aforementioned is most effectively done at the local level as each community has its own unique set of resources and challenges. I also believe that we all have a responsibility to help leave our community better than we found it.

That’s exactly why, many months ago, I began reaching out to the current Mayor of Newton to volunteer my time to help work on the issues that affect some of Newton’s most vulnerable. I made clear to the current Mayor and his team that I grew up in Newton public housing and on welfare, and that I was born to a teenaged mother who spent nearly three years in prison when I was still a teenager myself. I also made clear to the current Mayor how I was able to overcome my surroundings to go on to graduate from college and law school and create a business that has produced more than thirty state championships in the sports of cross-country and track. And most importantly, I made clear to the current Mayor why more needs to be done for Newton’s most vulnerable youth, and I articulated to him – based on my specific understanding of the issues in Newton and general understanding of them through mentoring others in similar situations as I once was – how the status quo is not good enough to produce meaningful results.

To my great disappointment, I never heard back from Mayor Setti Warren. Not a word. Rather than dwell on the failures of an uninspiring individual, a few months back, I contacted Work Inc. – an outstanding organization in Dorchester that awards hard-working and goal-driven disabled individuals stable jobs – to learn more about how I could volunteer and help contribute to their success. The same day that I reached out, I was honored to be given the opportunity  to give back to their inspirational community in a small way by joining its Human Rights Committee, where I now review and monitor program practices and procedures so as to make recommendations with the intent of safeguarding and promoting the legal rights of disabled persons in the program.

My point is this: How much is the City of Newton being held back from proactively addressing real local problems that affect our communities most vulnerable individuals under current leadership? Furthermore, any time that the current Mayor says better results aren’t being produced for lack of community members willing to step up to the plate and give back, I’d encourage you to not be manipulated by dishonest language. And from the looks of it, my experience in dealing with the current Mayor is common when you consider the names Barbara Huggins or Frank Wolpe.

What is clear is that we currently have a Mayor who enjoys talking about issues. However, as I’m sure we all agree, solving real problems requires strong leadership. On the Mayor’s own Facebook page, he writes about himself “I’m the Mayor of Newton, MA & I believe that governance in our city must be innovative, effective, efficient, inspire partnership & confidence.”

Prove it, Mr. Mayor.

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3 Comments on "The Other 1%"

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Bob Jampol

Tom, thanks for sharing rather personal information and congratulations for transcending all those difficulties while growing up. I have fond memories watching you and Noah and those great North teams compete over at Reggie Lewis!

I am wondering to what extent, in your opinion, the programs at North and South address the needs of students in tough circumstances at home. The teachers that I know who work in them do believe in the cause, and they want to do well by the students in need. Are the resources, in your opinion, sufficient?

Elaine Rush Arruda

I am catching up with NewtonForum after some summer vacationing, so I just read this post today. I am appalled that you received no response from the mayor, although not surprised. He is too busy padding his resume for higher office and only addresses issues that he thinks will further his political aspirations. His questionable actions regarding Barbara Huggins also showed his true colors. Would contacting one of the high schools directly be more likely to generate a response to your generous offer? Thank you for your community service!