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  • Wow! This is going to take a moment to soak this in.

  • I'm truly honored to be here today, to share

  • my idea on how I can change the world and really the story that led to it.

  • Because I had a very unlikely journey to get to this stage.

  • And it really is about the kids that you see behind me.

  • These are groups of kids that I work with in New York city,

  • but when I look at this picture, I see kids that remind me of myself.

  • They attend one of the poorest performing schools, in New York City.

  • And we know what the bars are, we know what the statistics are

  • when it comes to that, what their future prospects would look like.

  • When I look at that, I just personally thought

  • that was unacceptable.

  • When I look at some of our poorest and most vulnerable communities,

  • I think that there is so much untapped potential in those children.

  • When you look at them, bright eyed, they're smart, they're full of energy...

  • I think what it takes is just people in our community,

  • people who really care about the future of our country,

  • to think of innovative ways that we can expand their horizons,

  • think about ways that we can address what statistics say are going to happen

  • to these children, just because they are born in a certain zip code.

  • So, my idea around change and what Global Language Project is all about,

  • is taking children from some of the poorest and underserved schools

  • and exposing them to world languages, and culture.

  • And the spirit behind the whole idea is that, sometimes,

  • these children have very small horizons,

  • just because of the communities they grew up in.

  • The thought is that if you give them fluency in a 2nd or 3rd language,

  • One, you are giving them a transferable skill that can help them,

  • but, two, you are literally broadening their horizons,

  • you are introducing them to places that they may not know about.

  • You are looking at some of the statistics here,

  • when some of them are just struggling in literacy,

  • and you are addressing that as well.

  • When I look at this, I look back at that picture

  • of the bright kids and you see the statistics

  • where, again, you know that they have a better chance of getting pregnant

  • and being poor than graduating from college.

  • When I look at that room and I can just say percentage wise

  • how many of them are not going to graduate from High School, again,

  • for me, that drives me. That's my passion.

  • I thought about what can I do to make a difference.

  • What do I have from the back of my experience,

  • that I can bring up here and turn to these children?

  • The other thing I thought about when I look at the statistics is:

  • we know that these children have received the short end of the stick, right?

  • We know that they lack community support, we know that they lack family support,

  • we know that they are not receiving the best education.

  • So, I thought of how do we address that? How do we have a make good of sorts?

  • The idea that I had around that was giving them exposure

  • to a lead opportunities,

  • educational opportunities that are historically reserved for elite students.

  • They're reserved to students who go to private schools.

  • They are reserved for students who have parents who can afford

  • after-school programs, language programs and arts programs...

  • I said, "What if we were to give

  • all of that great enrichment to these children?

  • How could it impact their lives, how could it change

  • their lives in the future?"

  • This is a statistic, you know, that, again, a lot of us know,

  • when it comes to these children, what they are dealing with, you know.

  • We know that their background, what they are up against,

  • it's how do we take that and how do we move it forward.

  • So, when I was thinking about this talk and what I wanted to share with you today,

  • I thought about where it starts.

  • This isn't a great picture, but it's of me and my grandparents.

  • And, the reason why this picture is very close to my own heart is

  • this is my undergraduate graduation.

  • But, what's more important is my grandparents,

  • which you can't really see them. My grandfather, on my right hand side,

  • he grew up in the segregated South.

  • He was not allowed to attend school pass the 3rd grade.

  • My grandmother only went to middle school.

  • So, by all accounts, they were wholy uneducated.

  • But, despite this, what happened was, it gave them a reverence for education.

  • And they raised me and they poured all their hopes and dreams...

  • To them, if I could just get a college education, I would be OK.

  • Like that was just the Holy Grail.

  • They believed deeply that if I was able to graduate from college,

  • that I wouldn't be destined to a life of poverty,

  • that I could break our families' generational poverty cycle.

  • And, when I look at that it gives me chills,

  • because, in a lot of ways, that was true.

  • After undergraduate, I went to a coporate career that,

  • literally, took me around the world.

  • You know, growing up, I remember my grandmother telling me,

  • "The world can be your oyster".

  • And, fast foward in 15 years,

  • I had gone to places and worked in places that they didn't even know existed.

  • I found myself leading teams in China, in Europe and I thought:

  • "Gosh, they told me this about education".

  • But... they didn't even know what I was up against.

  • But, that was about the hope that they gave me.

  • That's about raising the bar.

  • And when I stand here, before you, today, and I say that,

  • you know, again, I grew up during a time where I could be raised

  • by uneducated grandparents,

  • I could grow up during a time, where I go to a "ok" public school,

  • but I could still go to college.

  • I could still have a successfull career. I could still, again, break that poverty cycle.

  • What does that mean?

  • And when I look at schools, in New York,

  • and some of them in Providence, I realize, you know,

  • that American dream that I had is severely broken.

  • We have a generation of very disheartened students and parents...

  • their ability to dream and inspire has just been confined and restricted.

  • So, going back to my idea about this.

  • It blew my mind when I was developing the idea

  • and thinking about my travels... how, when you live in an area,

  • that most people who come from poor communities

  • are confined to a 5 or 10 block radius.

  • When I looked at that, I thought, "Gosh, it's such a small area".

  • And, in theory that's one thing, but I thought saw it close and personal.

  • When I was working at Nokia and I'd come back to New York

  • and volunteered in schools,

  • I met parents and students, who had not left their neighborhood.

  • And I mean, they did their shopping there,

  • they did their groceries, everything was confined.

  • They'd go to their school, that was in that same block radius.

  • And you are like, "How can that happen?"

  • What I am saying is, it does!

  • Our first group of kids, we are teaching them Spanish and Chinese,

  • and we took the Chinese group, this is back in 2009,

  • 15 students down to Chinatown.

  • $2,50 subway ride, 30 minutes later, we are in downtown.

  • We are in Canal Street, New York.

  • The kids and their parents, the kids looked up

  • and one of them, Alexander, said to me,

  • "We are still in New York?"

  • And it threw me, because, you know, people said,

  • are you going to have them travel to other countries?

  • I'm like - they've not even traveled through New York City.

  • And that's when it really hit me,

  • what I was doing in terms of language and openning them up to other cultures.

  • Because, when we talk about a 21st Century Global Economy,

  • these children, in 18 years, in 15 years, their next opportunity

  • may not be here in the United States.

  • It could be somewhere in another country.

  • They could be working with someone that doesn't look like them,

  • that doesn't speak the same language with them.

  • And what it's going to be really important

  • and the key to their success will be how they show up.

  • You know, when I looked at my life, working in China,

  • I grew up in a predominantly African-American community.

  • Everywhere I worked in corporate America, that was not the case.

  • So, if I was not comfortable in that, there was no way I would be successful.

  • So, what's happening in this 5 block radius, it's not the world.

  • It's not the world that they will have to live in, to operate in.

  • So, really, the genesis behind Global Language Project was expanding

  • what the world looked like for them.

  • To take what's foreign -

  • I love how they call teaching languages, "foreign language" -

  • It's taking what's foreign and making it familiar.

  • So, if an opportunity comes to them, that they will be excited about it.

  • They won't be afraid of it.

  • When I first started Global Language Project,

  • when I was conceptualizing the idea,

  • I was working with the Harlem YMCA.

  • And they were going to give a group of teens

  • the chance to go to Colombia, the country, for 2 weeks.

  • They couldn't get one teen to sign up for this free 2 week trip.

  • And I said, "You can't find anyone to sign up?

  • What's the catch, they have to pay?" "They have to do a small fundraiser,

  • but if they can't bring up the money, we'll help them get there."

  • And I said, "You can't get one person to sign up for this trip. Why is that?"

  • And what the counselor told me, which is something

  • that completely made sense to me,

  • when I thought about, again, my own background, was:

  • the parents didn't want their children going that far.

  • It seemed so far, so remote.

  • They were concerned about them. That something would happen to them.

  • The teens, themselves, said, "Well, what will we eat?

  • How will we be treated when we're there?

  • Will someone be discriminating against me?"

  • And so, what that made me realize was that these are teenagers.

  • And I realized they've already, in their mind,

  • decided what's possible and what's not possible for them.

  • So, when I thought about the work with Global Language Project,

  • we started when they were younger.

  • I said we have to go back to Elementary School,

  • before they've decided what's foreign, what's bad, what's good.

  • You know, what's accessible to them.

  • In our first group, we started in 3rd grade.

  • We started with 30 students in the 3rd grade.

  • Even at that age, they had already started

  • formulating who were good students and who were bad students.

  • That second year, we went back to Kindergarten,

  • because we know, in Kindergarten,

  • it's a clean slate for everybody. English is a new language for them.

  • Lesson 1 we were introducing Mandarin and Arabic and Spanish,

  • but what happened with that second year and that class was

  • we started teaching them in an imersive environment.

  • We had donors and people come in to view the classes.

  • And they would see all of these adults -

  • this is in Hamilton Heights in Harlem -

  • kids are learning to speak Chinese from the first day.

  • We had all of this donors and supporters come in to watch these children.

  • And they would say things like, "Oh, my Gosh,

  • I can't believe they are speaking Chinese."

  • "That's so hard"; "Oh my God, these kids are so smart,

  • they are so special. I can't believe this".

  • They're filming the kids, taking pictures. And this happens on a regular basis.

  • And, what the kids and the class started to believe was that they were special.

  • And sometimes, when you think about opportunities, like language;

  • or if you think about arts, or science or other programs

  • it allows children to figure out what they're good at.

  • And it also allows them to explore their horizons.

  • And, when I thought about the spirit behind Global Language Project,

  • it's about leveling the plan field.

  • It is about openning these children up to opportunities

  • that they might not have known existed,

  • but now that they do know it exists, it allows them to escape

  • what could've been their future trajectory.

  • This current year, what's been interesting... I felt like we were on to something

  • about giving them and exposing to careers;

  • we thought it's very important to give them fluency in a 2nd language

  • that they can use it.

  • What we did this year was very interesting as well.

  • We started introducing them to professionals,

  • who are working in the languages that they are learning.

  • So, we took them to International Law Firms,

  • we took them to Media Companies and, again, we had corporate people

  • talk to them about how they use the language.

  • So, it's not about memorizing a verb, it's about the utility of it.

  • It's about how you can connect.

  • It's about giving these kids a voice and words

  • and language that they didn't know existed before.

  • It's painting a brighter picture for them.

  • You know, in September, when we started this,

  • we asked the children, our 5th graders, unprompted,

  • the question that we've all heard before: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

  • And, at that time, we had one student - and I remember it was a mirror of answers,

  • but there was one girl, Naomi, they asked her:

  • "What do you want to be when you grow up?

  • Her answer was she wanted to be a hair stylist.

  • And if you go Upper Manhattan, where she lives,

  • on literally every single block, there is a hair stylist

  • and there is a barber shop, or a beauty shop.

  • And, again, there is nothing wrong with that idea.

  • You know, over the last 6 months, in March, we went back,

  • and, Naomi had been exposed to international attorneys

  • and media companies, to colleges careers, scientists...

  • we went back and asked her again what she wanted to be.

  • And this time Naomi said -

  • we are getting ready to do our big benefit called My Dream Speaks -

  • we asked Naomi again what she wanted to be

  • and, this time, unprompted again,

  • she has the microphone, she goes, "I want to be an international attorney,