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Taped to Kamilah Henry’s walls are several homemade cards not from her boyfriend, family or friends; but from children.
Inside of these cards are hand-written messages from children expressing their love for Henry.
“We love you Ms. Kamilah,” read one, decorated with hearts. “Dear Ms. Kamilah, I miss you, where have you been?” aligns the inside of another card. “I know its cliche, but it’s so true; children really are our future,” said Henry, a senior majoring in African-American studies and elementary education.
“We could end a lot of the problems found in the African-American community if we instilled the right values in children at a young age.”
Henry is president of Howard University’s <A HREF=”http://www.americaspromise.org“> America’s Promise </a>, a program dedicated to mentoring and educating children three to 13 years-old in the District.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell started the national organization in 1997. Its mission focuses on “Five Promises,” consisting of developing relationships with caring adults, building safe places for children, having a healthy start and future, developing marketable skills through education and giving children the opportunity to give back.
Every Saturday morning, a group of about 30 children and 40 mentors, all students of Howard University, meet on Howard’s campus. The program typically lasts from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and each Saturday features a different theme.
In addition to the cards and pictures of Henry with the children, Henry’s room is crammed with books titled “Young, Gifted and Black,” “Fifty Major Thinkers of Education” and “Educational Psychology.”
“Right now, school is my number one priority,” said Henry, who at the time, had a 3.94 GPA and was taking 19 credits.
Still, Henry manages to squeeze in some time for her kids.
“Sometimes we stay on campus and play academic games, but in the past we’ve been to Frederick Douglass’ house, the Martin Luther King Library, a Howard football game,” she said.
“Last year we did the AIDS walk and even visited the U.S Capitol. We’d love to take the kids to better places, but because we feed them and have to pay for transportation, we’re limited to going places that are free.”
Funding America’s Promise has been a consistent problem since Henry has became president, “The problem is America’s Promise is only 1 of 200 recognized student organizations at Howard. Student Activities is only able to give us about $250 a year,” said Henry. “This seems like a lot but we feed the kids and the mentors; that in itself costs about $100 a week, and we meet nine Saturdays a semester.”
Henry said that last year, she used her whole refund check, $2000, to pay for food and transportation for the children and their mentors. Henry also gets sundry donations from her professors and organizes fundraising activities. Last year she wrote to the headquarters of America’s Promise and the <A HREF=”http://www.nul.org”>National Urban League </a> asking for financial assistance but she has not received a response.
“Making sure the children are fed is very important to me,” said Henry. “I heard that one in four kids in D.C. are <A HREF=”http://www.dchunger.org/about/facts.html”>malnourished </a>. I want to make sure if the kids are fed on any day, it’s on Saturday at America’s Promise.”
Henry’s determination and enthusiasm for the children has gained her respect from her peers.
“Kamilah is a great president. She’s one of the most dedicated and passionate people I know,” said Alexis James, a sophomore English major from Virginia Beach, VA.
James, a member of the executive board of organization, said the campus group will be lost when she graduates in May.
“She’s passionate about changing lives, and that’s what America’s Promise is about,” James said. “She’s making a positive world by being a positive role model.”
Besides campus, America’s Promise, Henry is also a teacher’s assistant and merit tutor at Paul Public Charter School, working 10 hours a week.
“I know education is the solution,” said Henry. “The children keep me going. The things they say, the things they do. I just love them.”