- Posted in Other Events Special Events What I see, Martha O'Bryan Center, nashville poverty at 9:13 am on 11/9/2010Zaki Issa works with high school transition coach Kelli Davis.
My name is Zaki Issa and I was born in Kenya. I do not remember much about the country because I moved to America when I was 3. But my mom always likes to tell a story about how I got very sick when I was 1 year old. Because she only had a few dollars, she had only one way to get me to the doctor 20 miles away. She walked with me in one arm and my brother in the other, the full 20 miles. And once I was treated, she walked 20 miles home.I like this story because my mother has always been willing to go anywhere if it would help me succeed. This is why I left Africa. My mother believed my sister, brother and I could live a better life in America. She left her family and friends behind, so that we could get a better education.It wasn’t that easy, however. The day we moved to America I was confused: confused by the language, the food, the sports, the money, the fast food and the people. Oh, and the silly Southern phrases.It was so much to take in. None of it made sense. I remember one of the first times my family and I went to the grocery store. We felt lost in the aisles of food, half of which I had never seen before and the other half I would never want to eat.I thought nothing could be worse than moving to America. Then I started school. I was 4 and it was difficult, terribly difficult. Everything was taught in English and I had no idea what they were saying unless someone showed me pictures.It wasn’t until the fourth grade, five years later, that English began to make sense. I was tired: tired of not knowing what people were saying, and tired of feeling confused. Learning a new language was tough. But I wanted to speak English with my friends, so I just started speaking.I spoke all of the time: at home, at school and in class. I never stopped, which I thought was great, but my teachers disagreed. That is when I started getting into trouble.In my head, I thought school would be easier once I knew English. But instead, my grades dropped. My behavior was off the charts. All day, all I did was speak to my friends. I never listened and I never did homework.I thought that if I could learn the language, my work was over. It wasn’t, and that year ended badly. I needed help, lots of help. So my mom signed me up for the Martha O’Bryan Center.Martha O’Bryan has changed my life in a lot of ways. It changed my grades, my behavior and my character. Before I went to MOB, I didn’t think studying or homework was important. But at Martha O’Bryan, it was not an option.Every day was focused on academics. We did homework, participated in reading groups and did class review sessions — daily. And my grades improved dramatically. I went from to Ds and Fs to As and Bs.Even this last summer, from 8 a.m. to noon, Monday through Thursday, we studied. It was called the Martha O’Bryan Summer Academy and we worked on reading, writing and grammar; art history; and ACT science and math. At first, I thought it was awful. But now that I am back in school, my classes seem easier. My grammar has improved, my sentence structure is stronger and I feel much more prepared for the ACTs.My behavior also dramatically improved. In 4th grade, I was on a first-name basis with the principal. But when I started attending MOB I realized that I was responsible for my actions.Martha O’Bryan had guidelines. If I wanted to go on a field trip to Nashville Shores or Percy Priest Lake, I had to earn it. Before, I always thought that adults just told me what to do because they were bossy. But at Martha O’Bryan, I realized they cared. They wanted to see me succeed as much as I wanted to succeed.Because I started going to Martha O’Bryan, I passed middle school. And because I have continued to go, I will graduate from Stratford High School this year prepared to go to college. This is not typical for my neighborhood. I live on South 7th Street, three blocks from the Martha O’Bryan Center. Less than 10% of my neighbors have graduated from college. But I will!Today, I am a senior at Stratford High School and working harder than ever to be successful. I am determined to raise my GPA and I am studying hard for the ACTs.Many of my classmates have given up. They don’t care anymore. Some have joined gangs, others use drugs, and most of the rest are just content with a high school diploma. But I’m not! I care, because Martha O’Bryan cared for me first. And now I know I can succeed.I plan to go to college and study architecture. And when I go, I know Martha O’Bryan is coming with me, because that is what they do.This last semester my brother started at MTSU. MOB made sure he had everything he needed. When he wasn’t able to purchase books, Martha O’Bryan bought them for him. They are continuing to walk beside him, to make sure he achieves his goals.That is why I love the Center. Not because it has helped me succeed, but because it has helped my whole family succeed.My younger sister now attends East Literature High School. When she was struggling in math, Martha O’Bryan picked her up at the library and drove her across town so she could receive one-on-one math tutoring. And when she needed a scientific calculator, they gave her one.Additionally, I have 3 more siblings who are currently within the THRIVE program. They receive the same tutoring, homework help and guidance that I received when I was their age. All of them will succeed!When all said and done, I fully expect all of my brothers and sisters to take part in the Martha O’Bryan Center. That means all of us will graduate high school, and all of us will graduate college. We are determined to succeed. It is what our mother taught us.My mother has given so much so that we can succeed. I want to give back. Today, my brother and I are helping her learn English. It is one small way that we can say thank you.One day, when I become an architect, I want to design my mom a house. But for now, I am focused on school.My mom moved to this country so I could receive a better education. And because of Martha O’Bryan’s help, that is the education I am receiving. That is the life that we will live.