August 21, 2008

Return to Bushwick

Posted: 02:56 PM ET

“I don’t want to leave,” Tasheema Walker told me as we walked onto the plane at Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. The bubbly, pony-tailed 13 year old had spent two weeks in South Africa meeting new friends and helping to deliver supplies to grannies and orphans living in shacks with no utilities, no mattresses, limited food and lots of trash. There was mud and garbage and evidence of extreme poverty everywhere you looked, and yet the people who lived there were happy and joyful. They were also grateful for the attention and supplies Tasheema and her friends brought to them.

Soledad OBrien consoles Tasheema Walker, 13, in the Tambo International Airport before leaving South Africa for home. Tasheema told Soledad “I don’t want to leave.”

The “Journey for Change” experience touched Tasheema and the other 29 participants deeply. Almost all of them returned to Brooklyn convinced they were permanently altered by the trip. “I am really happy that I came because this trip has changed me a lot,” writes 15 year old Jeremy Baker. “I learned how to do better service work and I also learned how to stop cursing.”

Their Global Ambassador contracts require them to continue to talk about their experiences, and to continue to do service. They are all eager to do that. Twelve year old Queen Clyde wants to have a bake sale to raise money for a South African family who lost their home. Sixteen year old Yolaine Calixte would like to help out at granny led homes here in the U.S. Malaak Compton Rock, the founder of the program, would like some of the children to speak before Congress to advocate for better resources in the inner cities and for better resources for South African orphans. Many of the Journey for Change participants – Donovan Rogers, Joshusa Hall, Shawn Todd and Tasheema Walker among them – are eager to do that.

The day after the trip, nearly all 30 of the Journey for Change kids showed up at the Salvation Army in Bushwick, Brooklyn to discuss how they will share their experiences in their community, and how they will continue to do service work back here in the United States. It’s all very impressive, but the goal of this program is to take these ‘at risk’ kids - children raised in a poor neighborhood with plenty of drugs, a high teenage pregnancy rate and struggling schools - and make sure they stay in school and make good choices for their lives. Will they do it? We plan to stick with them and find out. Eventually their experiences will be turned into a documentary here on CNN. In the meantime, they’re sharing their thoughts here on our blog.

Filed under: Journey for Change • Soledad OBrien

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Joan Haynes   November 24th, 2008 8:56 pm ET

I just want to say thank you all for the good work that you all are doing for the community in Brooklyn,and for the children at the Salvation Army the Bushwick Corps. You all has blessed my heart, and the family of these children ,and maney other. So may the good Lord continue to Blessed you, and keep you all in good health,and a long life. Keep up the good work with the Journey for Change,and Captain Lock,corps officer at the Salvation Army Bushwick corps. I Love You "Mrs & Mr Rock ,and your Team.

brenda pickett   January 13th, 2009 1:17 pm ET

thank you all so very much for my grandsons experience and it is with him still, i know it changed him. i want you all to know i REALLY appreciate it from the bottom of my heart. keep up the good work and you have made a difference in these children lives and adding knowledge and productivity in their lives to help others
thank you

brenda pickett, jeremy's baker grandmother

Sarah Cooley   July 22nd, 2009 8:46 pm ET

Thank you so much for this powerful, inspirational look at the lives of these extraordinary teens. As a school teacher in Brooklyn, I am constantly shown how the these children are capable of so much. Their hearts, their minds, and their potential legacies are endless. Seeing the amazing change these children made, just by opening their eyes is so inspirational. I thank you CNN, and Milaka Rock for allowing us into this journey.

The more of us who believe and inspire, the more change can be made. Everyone needs a step up sometime, a push to succeed, and this report will hopefully make more of us aware that we can all help.

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