Cleveland youth seeks change his generation
by Dustin Brady
(Plain Press, July 2007) Just like his hero, Martin Luther King Jr., Shawn Crosby has a dream. “My dream is to change a generation one youth at a time,” he said.
Crosby admits that it is a lofty goal, but then again, the seventeen-year-old South High School senior has quite a few lofty goals.
After high school Crosby plans on getting his master’s degree and becoming a preacher. He dreams of eventually becoming president of the United States. “Tell them to watch out for me,” he said.
Right now, Crosby is achieving his goal through an ambitious organization he started several months ago called The American Children’s Organization or TACO. “It’s catchy,” Crosby says of the acronym. “People always ask us if we sell tacos, but once we tell them what we’re all about, they remember.”
Crosby tells people that the organization helps teenagers succeed in high school and go on college. In TACO’s mission statement, Crosby writes, “We are designed to instruct and enrich promising students in a hands-on, experiential atmosphere while preparing them for leadership.”
TACO organizes events for Cleveland youth like the upcoming back-to-school bowling party, picnic for the homeless, single mother and child tea, and the inaugural event taking place on September 22, Ballin 4 Life.
Ballin 4 Life will be a 5-on-5 basketball tournament held at Cleveland State University with a $1,000 grand prize. The tournament will also feature a college fair, Greek step show, and AIDS awareness testing. Crosby hopes Ballin 4 Life will spark teenagers’ interest in college.
What sets TACO apart from similar organizations is that it is run entirely by youth. Crosby and about twenty other teenagers have built the organization from scratch over the last several months. They plan every event themselves and raise their own support.
While he still needs plenty of donations, Crosby has already found support from the BRICK program, the NAACP, Cleveland State University’s Student Government Association, and Cleveland City Councilman Roosevelt Coats.
Crosby says that everywhere he talks about the organization, people seem to get excited. He even scored a meeting with Cleveland Municipal School District CEO, Dr. Eugene Sanders. After he presented TACO to the Cleveland Municipal School Board at their May 22 meeting at Max Hayes High School, Dr. Sanders himself personally introduced himself to Crosby and asked for a meeting.
“I’ve been the CEO of the Cleveland Municipal School District for about a year now,” said Dr. Eugene Sanders, “and he is to date the most impressive student I’ve seen speak at a board meeting. I was very impressed with his professional demeanor and poise.”
When he talks about his organization, Crosby’s enthusiasm can become contagious. “When I speak in front of a large audience, something lights on fire in me,” he said. “I love this stuff. Once you find your purpose in life, you get fulfillment out of it.”
Crosby’s girlfriend of a year and a half, Ebony Rollins, agrees that he has found his purpose. “It’s all he talks about,” she said. “He never has time to breathe or do anything. Sometimes I have to stop him and ask, ‘what have you done for yourself lately?’”
Besides being the founder of TACO, Crosby also serves on Mayor Frank Jackson’s planning committee for the One Voice…Zero Tolerance Youth Summit, the Youth Covenant Committee, and the NCAAP Youth Council.
Rollins says that Crosby is deeply involved with the community because he truly loves helping people. She tells about one time last winter when Shawn was driving with his mother on a very cold day. They passed a young boy on the street wearing barely any clothes. Crosby told his mom to stop the car. “He got out and gave the boy clothes and gloves that were in the car. Then he literally gave that boy the coat off his back,” she said.
Crosby says that he did not always have a passion for helping people. “I was one of those problem children in school,” he said. All that changed, he said, when he found God in 1997 at the Good Shepherd Baptist Church on Euclid Ave.
Now Crosby attends The Word Church and claims his pastor, R. A. Vernon, as one of his heroes. Crosby says “nothing but the grace of God has helped me through everything,” he said. “I didn’t do this. God did.”
Crosby gives his mother, Regina Crosby, credit for helping him start down the path he is on now. She is the one who got him started in the Upward Bound program when he was going into the ninth grade.
Upward Bound is a national college preparatory program for low income or first generation college students. It is sponsored in Northeast Ohio by Cleveland State University. Program directors tutor teenagers throughout the school year and teach them material from the next grade during the summer. Crosby says that Upward Bound really gave him the idea and passion for TACO.
Ceray Doss-Williams, interim director of Upward Bound, has been very impressed with the way Crosby has developed in the program. “This kid is a leader,” she said. “He’s got charisma and high moral character. The kids call him ‘Preach’.”
Doss-Williams recently competed in Good Morning America’s “Dancing with the Moms.” She says that even though she had the support of the Plain Dealer and the community, “Preach” is the one who helped her become a finalist on the show. “Shawn spearheaded a voting campaign throughout Cleveland for me,” she said. “I was really humbled by that.”
Doss-Williams says that she believes with all her heart that Crosby will fulfill his dreams. “Here I am supposed to be inspiring him and he inspires me,” she said.
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