By HABEEBAH R. GRIMES
About 20 years ago, I sat in a circle during one of my first group meetings at PEP Eastwood. As a newly hired one-on-one aide, I listened intently to the children discuss what had happened in their lives the day prior.
One student’s story from the previous evening resonated deeply with experiences from my own childhood. I offered my support. More than anything, I wanted him to know his story was familiar to me and that he was not alone.
I would come to learn that many of the students’ stories and struggles were like those experienced by me and my brother, Hashim.
Like Hashim, the children I was getting to know were having difficulty overcoming what had happened to them during their young lives.
Like Hashim, their pain manifested in behaviors that kept peers, teachers and even loved ones at bay.
Like Hashim, they were also gifted with skills, talents and abilities that were most likely to reveal themselves in the context of trust, unconditional positive regard and safety.
As I pursued my career at PEP, I did so with certainty that this organization would be a place where I could serve youth and families who needed the same degree of acceptance and understanding my own family needed.
By this time, I was also aware of what happens to kids and families when a young person’s needs go unmet. At PEP, I could help prevent such painful outcomes. Over the years, I’ve felt a growing sense of pride being part of a community that brings out the best in children. Our staff engages the youth we serve with compassion, kindness, openness and a belief in their potential to thrive in the face of significant adversity.
During my years at PEP, I’ve come to know many of the children’s caregivers. Through those connections, I again felt a sense of familiarity, remembering my own mother’s desperate struggles to keep her family, and her son, from spinning out of control.
By working to empower parents and caregivers, I was helping create new, more hopeful trajectories for families and children. I remain inspired by this potential to build our community’s capacity, one family at a time.
I continue to share what I have learned over the years with my mother, who is inspired by it as well.
Today, I’m honored to lead an organization that plays such a critical role in the lives of vulnerable children who show so much promise.
I miss Hashim. I still think about him each day in relation to our work at PEP. These supports are what Hashim needed – what our family needed – but did not experience.
I believe he would be proud. I know he would urge us on. This keeps me focused and gives me hope.
Grimes has served as CEO of Positive Education Program since July 2018.
FEATURED PHOTO: Habeebah and her mother, Valerie Wilson, at a Cleveland Orchestra event in January where PEP was honored with the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Award.