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Bayview mentor Eason Ramson avows, “There’s a graduate in you!”

Sat, 01 Jul 2017 19:30:00
Article by:
Michael Orion Powell Deschamps
Care Program Administrator Patrica Hinton with student Kevin Cobar and Ramson. Photo by Michael Orion Powell Deschamps.
Bayview Hunters Point is a hectic part of San Francisco. Fast food joints, restaurants, and murals of black figures such as Malcolm X and Nina Simone accommodate large groups going in and out of the shops and on and off mass transit. Once inside the Bayview YMCA, where Eason Ramson runs his Center for Academic Re-entry and Empowerment — CARE — program, the atmosphere was less packed, but the tension of the outer world remained.
  
There was awareness at the YMCA of the uncertain times we face in history. The TV was on in the waiting room, with an announcement of Donald Trump’s firing of FBI chief James Comey after Comey refused to swear an oath of loyalty to Trump, with pundits trading insights upon the topic. Pamphlets in the building included one for a fundraiser event called “Parenting in Uncertain Times: Talking to Your Kids About Race.”
  
When I met with Ramson, he seemed empathetic and put his hand on mine several times while talking and having an inescapable look of concern on his brow. Ramson has been through it all — a former National Football League tight end, who developed a drug habit that became a problem during his athletic years, and ending up with one that literally cost him $1,000 daily. This problem with drugs would also potentially cost him a prison term that could end with life sentencing.
  
The interceding sworn testimony of a close friend and confidant, Bill Walsh, helped the judge to reduce his sentencing down to 28 months probation. According to Ramson, the judge leaned in and said, “Mr. Ramson, get help.”
   
Ramson did just that, emerging from his drug habit and started CARE. After the program was conceived by Ramson in 2008, CARE has supported the completion of high school for more than 400 high school dropouts. His main goal is to “teach life skills and help students build resiliency, so that when they leave us and transition to regular school, they have the skill set and knowledge to endure the problems, personalities, anger that could come in the way.” Ramson has described the program as essentially “a truancy abatement program in the form of a school.”
   
Students in the CARE program typically run from ages 14?17, and the program works in tandem with the San Francisco Unified School District and Five Keys Charter School to transfer in students that are appropriate for the program. According to Ramson, the relationship with Five Keys started so that there would be a place for students to go after completion of the program when they still had too few credits to complete in a traditional environment. He added that if the students are able to complete all the prerequisites of the program, they can obtain a diploma within a month.
   
Before starting the program, Ramson was accepted at Walden House, a home for the homeless, drug users, HIV-positive or suffering mental health issues. “When I came out of treatment, my intention was to pay it forward. I had been educated, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it,” he told me.
 
Ramson credits this situation with reorienting his life and directing him toward educational work. He first worked with truants at the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center — work he performed for eight years. The YMCA project arose when Jena Former — the director at the Bayview YMCA in the late 2000s — called and said that she had acquired funding for a program there.
   
Ramson talks of “meeting students where they are” in two facets — the first being looking at the barriers that are there, including the home environment, and how that impacts the progress of the student. Ramson said that all sorts of conditions ranging from domestic violence to a lack of consistent housing or food could lead to disorder in an educational environment. The second is a “skill set assessment” meant to see what the student is adept at doing, and where they can go from there, so that the student’s skills can then be built up. The assessment is meant to gather the student’s math, reading and comprehension skills.
  
I met and talked with several students while at the Bayview YMCA. The students were engaging and appreciative of the learning environment which they had joined. Kevin Corbar was 17 and spoke of hoping to work in stocks and investment. “Life takes you places, you know. I was a great student and life sometimes … bad things happen,” he told me. “So I got off track, and good people who cared about me said, ‘This program is here.’ I was a great student and my environment affected me. Here I developed a work ethic, I developed skills here. They have a Life Skills class that they teach. We go through instances of situations and how you’d best handle it. People care about you, you can just tell the authenticity here.”
   
Ramson said that Corbar was so intent on making it through the program that he would sometimes insist on staying at the YMCA. Ramson firmly stated that the structure for further achievement is mapped out. “We make a map to graduation that identifies their skills, strengths and challenges and show them how they can overcome to the future. That map of graduation also consists of their academic requirement, we give them two schools they can transition to out of the program so they get their choice.”
 
I spoke also with four other students — three young men, Jordan, Ignacio and Rahsaan, along with one young woman, Vereaye.
  
“I came from Sacramento and wasn’t completing work and I wanted to do better,” Jordan told me. “It seemed like a good thing to come here because there were more opportunities here, like how the credit system works.”
  
Ignacio, on the other hand, said, “I came here because during high school I was truant and didn’t get along with teachers, which affected my grades. I’m close to graduating and getting my diploma.”
  
Rahsaan added that his situation was almost identical to Ignacio’s but that, thanks to CARE, he was on the verge of graduating at Five Keys.
  
Vereaye added that she came to CARE after her 10th grade year at Downtown High School, adding “It was hard there. I started to do some of my work, I started to get serious and completing my work.” One recent event held by CARE was a march by all the students in which they presented businesses with a poster advertising the program, which said “There’s A Graduate in You.”

 
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