Lydell Henry and Hermondoz Thompson were students at Dunbar High School in the early 1990s with birthdays one day apart and challenges standing in their way as teens growing up in Baltimore. But the duo recognized the power of organized activities – particularly wrestling – and is now both caring adults who are helping to make a difference in the lives of other young people. They meshed their passion with their desire to improve the lives of local youth by forming Beat the Streets-Baltimore, a wrestling, mentoring and tutoring program that is doing incredible things in our great city.
Beat the Streets-Baltimore brings Olympians, NCAA champions and local collegiate wrestlers to lead clinics, and uses the proceeds to fund wrestling programs at the McKim Center at Maritime Industries Academy High School. But wrestling is only half of the story.
The 160 Baltimore youth involved in Beat the Streets learn web design, hear speakers from job centers and universities, read assigned novels to further their learning, and take financial literacy courses. Henry and Thompson have also arranged for mentors from Morgan State University to help their young wrestlers with science projects that are entered into the university's science fair.
"It's basically our life story," Henry said. "We started out wrestling, and I had challenges, emotional and otherwise. I'm really passionate about it, because when I started wrestling, I learned how to persevere and how to succeed. There are so many life lessons you can apply to the real world. We recognize the need for a program to help children develop."
The original Beat the Streets model was developed in 1993 in Baltimore, and the program stretches across the country, with the biggest being in New York. While the New York program has had more time to gauge its impact on student involvement, the local Beat the Streets is monitoring truancy, school performance, and other important metrics.
This summer, Henry and Thompson received thousands of dollars to fund the program and introduce it into middle schools. Now, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, Booker T. Washington School for the Arts, City Springs Elementary/Middle School, Booker T. Washington Middle School For the Arts, and Bluford Drew Jemison – East are all participating in the program.
"We've divided it into two parts – the community-based teams and the school-based teams, so we can provide this program year-round," Thompson said.
Traveling to Lehigh University, American University, Johns Hopkins University, University of MD in College Park and the University of Pittsburgh for tournaments and college tours gives local kids exposure to the possibilities in front of them, Thompson said.
"I was in the military in Iraq, and I wanted to come back and give the kids some direction," Thompson said. "Part of our model is to provide positive life values. We want to show the kids that there is a better way than what they see every day on the street. They see something tangible when we take them to universities and to hear guest speakers. They see that they can make it."
I want to personally thank Henry and Thompson for giving their time and energy to such a worthwhile initiative. Our youth are our most valuable asset, and these two Everyday Heroes are making a difference.