Family Reunion by Laverne Ross

Friday, May 30, 2008

Profile: Elease Samms and Shelynn Guillaume

From Sister Symphony over at Essential Presence:

I usually do a profile of a single individual but this story was great and, as usual, its not sexy to hype achievement and success (unless its financial). The two young girls attend Jones High School which based on grades and test scores is probably the worst in the metro Orlando (FL) area. Its' students live in one of the most impoverished areas. We need to give students like these two, Elease and Shelynn, just as much as attention as those who play sports or misbehave.

What kind of attention does a kid who excels get? You can say, "Well they are supposed to do it." but that's exactly why you don't get it. We applaud excellence in sports, entertainment and spend countless amounts of money for kids who don't behave. But we basically put the good kids to the back of the bus with an, "eh." Positive reinforcement. I've never seen a kid who has strayed from the positive path find his way back without support, mentoring or noting the benefits of being good.

My son gets the most attention from me when he behaves and does the right thing. When he misbehaves, he is corrected, punished and almost ignored.

''School provided me with free lunch which was the highlight of my day. In spite of having to do homework by candlelight, I managed to keep my grades at A's.''

Elease Samms and Shelynn Guillaume are about as close as friends can be. Ranked No. 1 and 2 in Jones High School's class of 2008, their grade-point averages are separated by a fraction, but their lives are joined by similar circumstances. Both were new to Orlando when they started ninth grade at Jones in 2004. Elease moved here with her mother and brother on the heels of an eviction in Louisiana and into a home without electricity or running water.

Shelynn came from New York because her family thought the warm weather might help her father's fragile health. It didn't, and he soon died. The two girls bonded over what Elease called their "longing for success" and their personal struggles. "We shared all that stuff," Shelynn said. "We tell each other everything." Despite all the obstacles, both girls kept up their grades and kept their conviction that school would save them. It worked.

Now 18 years old, both graduate from Jones today. Next month, Elease is heading to Cornell University to study architecture. Shelynn is going to Florida A&M University, her sights on medical school. [Read the entire article]
Seriously, read it. Read how for six months Elease didn't have electricity or water. If their family had money for the bus they would take showers at the YMCA on Fridays. And when they didn't, they borrowed water from neighbors and washed from a pot.

Or part of Shelynn's salutatorian speech: "I lost my father at the age of fifteen to brain cancer. However, I came to understanding that I needed to use that as a stepping stone, and not a blocker. I began to see life not as a bruise, but as an everlasting challenge. I learned at a young age that no matter what life may bring me, I could not let that hinder my success.

I have tried to excel in everything that I do because I knew that no matter how vicious the storm, or how tall the mountain, I had an obligation to keep on striving. It became clear to me that I was not the only one who had to battle lions and circumstances each and every day, because all of you have had to do the same thing. But it is always important for all of you to understand that you are all brick walls, and that nothing can knock you down."

You may not know them but you can't tell me you don't have an abundance of pride and respect for these young ladies.

3 comments: said...


I just saw the announcement of your blog over at Electronic Village!

Thank you for this inspiring post!

You are welcome to drop by my house ( and share your insights on the current discussion, "Who Is In Charge? The Mantle of Black Leadership".

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

focusedpurpose said...

hi there:-)

i love this post! it is beyond inspiring.

Congrats on your inclusion in the afrospear.

i love your blog and your energy which emanates from the screen when i visit.

blessings in abundance bro,

mrshadow33 said...

Thank you for the kind words and I will pop in and share my thoughts on the topic you mentioned.

Sister FP:
It is always good to hear from you and the positive and loving energy that you bring as well as the uncompromising truth that comes through in your blog. We will talk again soon.

Peace,love and happiness,