Donale Richards

Donale Richards: "Kids who face the most barriers can be the most productive members in society, if you give them a chance."

For the fifth year, Cap Times reporters asked several Madisonians to share their "bright ideas" for the new year. We will publish the 2018 edition of Bright Ideas throughout the next week.

I was born in Madison and was raised in multiple east side neighborhoods. My American mother and Jamaican father separated when I was young and my mother re-married a Gambian. My brother and I lived comfortably until I was about 13 when my uncle committed suicide. At the same time, I realized that my family was financially unstable. We were downsizing on everything and lived on a low-income budget.

At a young age, I felt isolated, even more so as a biracial kid. I was “too smart” and “talked white.” But I was “ghetto” because I wore baggy clothes and listened to hip-hop music. To fit in, I did things that teenagers are peer-pressured to do. I would sneak out late at night, go to parties and run away from the cops.

Despite the hardships, I was determined to go to college. The PEOPLE Program recruited me at 13 and promised to provide a 4-5 year tuition scholarship at UW-Madison if accepted. In 2012 I was accepted and graduated with a degree in Biological Systems Engineering in 2017. Now I work for Mentoring Positives Inc. and Dane County UW-Extension developing social entrepreneurship programs for Madison youth.

The point of this story: kids who face the most barriers can be the most productive members in society, if you give them a chance. Invest money into their ideas, listen without judging and engage in the activities they love doing. Do that and you may see an “at-risk” child transform into a confident, innovative leader.

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