Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles 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.