Teaching at Breakthrough is a lifestyle. Most importantly, BTNY is part of my identity.
On July 23rd, Breakthrough New York students Sabrina Carrero and Talib Lawal and
Breakthrough New York High School Coordinator (and FAO Schwarz Family Foundation
Fellow 2014-2016) Joseph Rosales visited the White House to take part in a conference
as part of the First Lady’s Reach Higher Initiative. About 150 students from across the
country attended the event, which included workshops, a hip-hop concert, and a surprise
appearance by the President.
Carrero, a Posse Scholar, will start her freshman studies at Brandeis University this fall.
Talib, who spent the summer as an intern at the Clinton Foundation, will be starting as a
freshman at Franklin & Marshall College this fall. Talib wrote the following essay about
his experience at the White House.
My name is Talib Lawal. I began my Breakthrough journey as a shy yet motivated
student from Brooklyn, N.Y., in the summer of 2009. I came in full of dreams to be great
and successful. I wanted to be a Senator. I wanted to be the first black President of the
United States of America. I wanted to be different and accomplish more than what was
expected of me as an African American. I saw the visions. I dreamed my dreams. But for
it to be reality I needed the skills that would help me to become who I wanted to be, and
I needed to grow out of my shy shell for my voice and ideas to be heard. Breakthrough
laid the path for me and I followed.
During the summer programs and school year programs I was forced to work hard and
be attentive. I was forced to talk and speak out my ideas. This forceful push matured into
a strong partnership between Breakthrough and me that showed that no matter what, I
was going to make it and succeed. I not only learned how to be persistent and
conscientious, but I learned how to establish strong connections with those around, and
in the end I made friends that will last a lifetime.
When I was nominated by Breakthrough to attend the Beating the Odds Summit at the
White House I was extremely grateful and excited about this unique opportunity. My
experience at the White House was a once in a lifetime event that I will never forget. I
have been to the White House a couple of times for a regular tour, but to be there and
actually be recognized and noticed by the First Lady and President Obama was inspiring
and enlightening. I was able to hear about the challenges Michelle Obama faced during
college and how she overcame those struggles. One piece of advice that First Lady
Michelle Obama gave to me that I will always remember is, “Don't be afraid of hard
work...Do not be afraid to fail...And if you fail, then recover. Get over it. Get up, figure out
what went wrong, and go back in. If you fail again, get up, brush yourself off. You will fail.
You will fail again. You will fail some more. And the difference between that failure and a
failure is that somebody just stopped trying. So don't stop trying.”
This advice from Michelle Obama really resonated with me and it opened my eyes to
see that the only ingredient for success is hard work. Hard work is the absence of fear
and believing in the impossible. This event helped me to see college and the world in a
different light. I was able to network with unique and interesting students who possess
the same determination for success as I do. I was able to listen to Arne Duncan, United
States Secretary of Education, and his advice on financial aid and how getting into
college and completing it is definitely attainable. I also had the opportunity of receiving
college advice from E! News host Terrence Jenkins and performing artist Wale.
The highlight for me at this White House Event was the surprise appearance from
President Obama. My dream as a young boy was to become the first black President of
the United States of America; to be able to see President Obama in person, who was
able to break the barriers and become the first black President of the United States of
America, was very uplifting and encouraging for me. The advice from President Obama
that continues to motivate me is, “If you are willing to work hard and if you are willing to
dig deep, and if you’re willing to make sacrifices, and if you’re willing to embrace the
values that are best in us, there’s nothing that’s going to stop you. And you’ve got to set
your bar high... Look, if a kid born in Hawaii named Barack Obama can end up being
President of the United States and a young girl born on the South Side of Chicago can
end up being the First Lady there’s nothing you can’t do.
And hopefully this summit has given you some sense of the possibilities and also
hopefully it’s given you some relationships and some networks that you can now tap
because not only do I expect out of you individual success, but I also expect you to work
together to bring about some collective success.” The fact that Obama expects me to be
successful and to help others to be successful is an eye opener that the world needs me
to be successful.
I am thankful and humbled at this special opportunity presented to me by Breakthrough
New York, and it is an experience that I will never forget and will always look back to
when facing any struggles on my journey to be outstanding.
An undergraduate at Yale University and an alumna of Choate Rosemary Hall, Molly
Lynch spent her second summer in a row as one of our stellar Teaching Fellows
(working out of our site in Manhattan). This summer, she was the proud recipient of our
Teaching Excellence Award. At our ceremony as the summer session concluded, she
delivered a moving tribute that we wanted to share with you.
When I was a little girl, riding in the back seat of the car, my mom would ask me, “Do
you know how much I love you?” When I was four or five, I would answer by spreading
my arms really wide and saying it was a lot. By the time I was a sixth grade, I had heard
her ask me this question so much that it’s power faded from my ears. I would say, “A
lot!” or “I know!” I always wondered why she didn’t just say it to me “I love you.” Why did
she make me guess how much? I think after this summer, I finally understand why. I
think my mom was trying to tell me that she didn’t just loved me a standard amount, but
that she loved me a tremendous, unfathomable, enormous, bigger-than-any-guess
amount. I understand this now because I met all of you. When I thought of speaking to
you, I just wanted to ask you, “Do you know how much I love you?”
I love the way Jacob gets up to dance at almost every cheer. I adore the way Garland
pulls his hair when he’s thinking hard. My heart is warmer when Nizelis smiles at me
from across the cafeteria, and I am awed by the way Hillary helps keep her friends on
point in class by tapping their desks. I glow when Cesar starts a game of quiet Wah with
his friends before tennis. I love watching Sadiyah share her insights during turn and
talks. And, I am just floored when Paul bravely takes on the one-minute word challenge.
I have had the true privilege of watching you do wonderful things all summer. In big
moments, but also in tiny seconds, you have shown your genuine caring and protection
for each other and our community. Juliette gave her friends advice. Brenda helped me
climb up the play structure on the roof when I was scared. Rakin taught us all about
compound sentences by making a video game. Christopher and Madeline spent all
lunch laughing. Mudrakat, Tatyanah, and Antonayah said “wooh” at each backhand they
hit in tennis, and Henderson encouraged us as we all climbed the five flights of stairs to
get to block A.
Sometimes, there aren’t enough moments in the day for me to tell you how much I care
for you and how happy you make me. And when the day is done but I’m still bursting
with pride, I go home, and I tell my family and friends all of the wonderful things you do. I
tell them about the beautiful courage I saw when Aleyssa stepped on stage at Open Mic
and told us who she was. And I tell them about Enrista’s incredible expository essay
about how the Bronx has made her. I tell them that Chi- Chi promised to call me this fall,
and maybe visit my high school, and I say to them, jumping out of my seat, how excited I
would be to get that call. I once realized just how much I was talking about the kids when
my best friend texted me in the middle of the day and asked “How’s Harumi?” And, I
responded, in all caps, “Oh my gosh, she’s amazing. She is so sweet.”
I tell you all this because I think it will be important to you. Knowing you are loved –
knowing you are seen – will be important to you when you face new challenges. As you
may know, last summer, I taught ninth grade math at the Breakthrough Manhattan site.
The Breakthrough community inspired me. When I left, I was different from when I
started. When I returned to college, I thought back on all the magnificent people I now
had by my side. I remembered those people whenever I had to do something that was
hard. For me, one of the hardest things I have done was run the Boston Marathon. In
those winter months, when I was running 15 miles on icy roads, my heart warmed, and
my pace quickened when I thought of my Breakthrough friends. I would try to name
everyone in family 6, or I would sing the cheers in my head; “Work hard, aim high,” I
would whisper in between breaths. The day of the marathon was cold, rainy and windy,
but the streets were still lined with spectators. When I had to climb a steep hill, when my
legs wore down, when my mind felt blank, and my belly cramped, I imagined my student,
Emmanuel, was waiting for me right at the top, or I told myself Spencer was cheering me
on. I focused on specific memories; I was overwhelmed with the distractions, and I
In your lives, but also just during your years in Breakthrough, you will do things that push
you incredibly hard. You will have moments where you will need strength to keep
fighting. Find strength from the Breakthrough class of 2025. Think of Rustom’s energy
on when he’s playing on the roof before breakfast, or remember how Kingsley gave you
a high five after your turn at ruler of the court in tennis. Lean on Ijah, who patiently
shares his best self with you during turn and talks. Have courage like Jessica when she
performed in Open Mic with the drama elective, and support your teammates like
Denyce did when she was on your battleship team.
On Wednesday, I left school at the same time as Francis and Chi- Chi. We walked a few
blocks together, and Francis told me about how he was moving to a new house, with a
bigger back yard, so he is going to get a dog soon. He said next week he’s going to pick
him out. When I turned left and Francis and Chi- Chi continued on to catch the 6 train, I
was beaming. I felt so lucky to get to know that about Francis, and I wished I could have
walked and talked with them about dogs all afternoon. I went home and I went running.
My energy was high. I bounded through crosswalks, and burst into the park. I smiled and
listened to beautiful, light songs. But soon, I hit a hill. I reached for a memory to keep me
going. But this time, I wasn’t just remembering Emmanuel or Sulainy or Oge. This time, I
couldn’t help but think of Dejanae, and how she made me laugh when she listed off all of
the foods she dislikes. And, I couldn’t help thinking of Gislediy, and how comfortable I
felt running laps in tennis next to her. I remembered her pigtails flipping in the air and her
cheering everyone else on as they finished up.
Thank you for filling my heart and head with beautiful memories. I will think of each and
every one of you when I run up big hills. I will miss you dearly, but I’ll be comforted to
know that you’re with your BT Bronx friends, and that you are loved and you are seen. I
am forever proud of everything you have done, and everything you will do. Do you know
how much I love you? I don’t just love you a standard amount, but I love you a
tremendous, unfathomable, enormous, bigger-than-any-guess, amount.
Jordan Modroe sees Breakthrough New York guiding him on the road to success in school, in his career, and in his life.
An 8th grader in Brooklyn, Jordon wanted more resources and support to get into a better high school, and college. The 13-year-old has now completed two of BTNY’s intensive summer sessions and is now pursuing high school admission.
“This has been tough,” he says of the program. “Students contemplating coming here should know it takes a lot of effort. The effort has to be there first and foremost.”
BTNY helped Jordan navigate the high school application process, honed his research skills, and prompted him to seek schools that he had never before contemplated.
“Breakthrough talked a lot of about community and how smaller schools are more close knit,” he says. “Everyone here is so professional; it makes me hopeful I will have a spot a the schools I have applied to.”
His BTNY classmates have become lifelong friends, driven by a shared determination to succeed. Jordan, for one, has been appointed a BTNY Ambassador.
“No matter where I am I represent Breakthrough New York,” he says. “The students here attain the highest standards and quality in everything they do.”