FORGET THE bad news for a minute: The skyrocketing murder rate, homelessness, problems in our city schools.
And picture this: a story of a bright young girl, born in Jamaica, brought to Philadelphia to find the American dream. It's a story about spirit, success, overcoming all odds to achieve.
This is the story of Antionette.
Flash back to 1999, when I joined Philadelphia Futures as a mentor and was paired up with Antionette Grant.
Picture us meeting for the first time at her North Philly school. Me, a young professional from the Main Line, walking through the school's metal detectors, past armed security guards, a bit nervous and doubtful that I would even have enough time to commit to mentoring.
And then there was Antionette, a lovely ninth-grader who, despite her shy smile, took my hand, introduced me to her teachers and friends and convinced me in about 3 minutes that, yes indeed, I would make enough time to devote to mentoring.
Picture this: our first outing together. Choosing the perfect frame for her honor roll award; the same award that classmates teased her about. Imagine Antionette reading Shakespeare aloud in class, while students snickered at her accent.
Envision all of the new experiences we shared together: sampling foreign foods (me, fried plantains; her, fried dumplings), visiting museums, going to concerts, shopping for a prom dress, meeting each other's families.
Picture Antionette's mother, who believed in her enough to attend every school and mentoring meeting, and who, despite working late hours, cleaning hotels and universities to make ends meet, would tell me each time in her Jamaican accent, "Every 'ting is al-right."
Imagine the obstacles that Antionette faced: no school books, burnt-out teachers, overcrowded classrooms.
Envision the environment: friends dropping out, getting pregnant, watching dreams fade away. Don't forget the violence around every corner, fear in the neighborhood, tearful goodbyes to friends.
Imagine Antionette's perseverance: holding down after-school jobs while balancing homework, tutoring and sometimes cooking dinner for her family. Picture the group of educators and friends surrounding her, insisting on her achievement.
Don't think it was always easy. When life seemed a struggle for me, when I broke up with my boyfriend, switched careers, wanted to drop out of law school after the first week, it was Antionette who was my anchor. The thought of her persistence made me want more, dream bigger, and do better in my own life.
Together, we navigated through each semester of high school and then on to SATs, college applications and essays.
Imagine Antionette going to Penn State on a full scholarship! Imagine her living in the dorms, far from the gunfire on the streets of Philadelphia. Picture her in biology class, statistics, pursuing a career in medicine.
Flash forward to May 19, 2007: Picture thousands of people in Happy Valley throwing their caps in the air as those who love them cheer.
Imagine Antionette walking across the stage to accept her diploma, the first in her family to receive such an honor, to win such well-deserved distinction.
See her standing tall, proudly, in her new suit, believing, deep in her heart, that she is destined for greatness.
Picture me, her mentor, advocate, cheerleader, her life-long friend, in the crowd, shedding tears of pride and smiling from ear to ear, knowing that she has made me a better person and, quite possibly, I have done the same for her.
IMAGINE Antionette's story is just beginning and think of all of the possibilities in her next chapter. Believe, that out of devastation and despair in our city, the light of hope still shines on.
If you would like to become a mentor or sponsor to a student like Antionette, contact Philadelphia Futures at 215-790-1666 or log on to: philadelphiafutures.org.
Philadelphia Futures is a nonprofit organization that provides promising urban high school students with the tools they need to achieve their dream of a college education.
Philadelphia Futures has strategic alliances with Penn State, Dickinson College, Gettysburg College and Drexel University. And its special relationship with Penn State University and the Brook J. Lenfest Foundation made Antionette's full scholarship possible. *
Stacy Heenan is a lawyer who lives in Philadelphia.