Jovonne, left, is pictured with her mother, Shirley.
"I was born in Washington D.C. and grew up on 6th St in Shaw. In my neighborhood, if you didn't have a good family or support network to help you, you would end up as another statistic. I feel blessed that I had both, but things were still hard. The first experience that made me think the world was crazy was at ten years old. I was outside playing and all of the sudden, I heard a car speeding down the street and this pop,pop..pop,pop. There were bullets everywhere and people were running in all directions. Can you imagine living in a place where the hustlers don't care who they shoot? I always wanted to tell them that it was them who made our neighborhood bad.
"There were way worse environments that I could have been in, though. There was an apartment building on 13th and S St. called Garfield Terrace. I went to school with some kids who lived there. When I saw how these kids were living, I felt like I lived in Georgetown. The dope heads were in their hallways. My Mom couldn't make sure that the neighborhood was safe for me, but she made sure that the area from our house to the corner was a safe environment. We were the house that no one messed with because people were scared of my Mom. She never had to apologize to me about our neighborhood because we were the lucky ones. It definitely was not the best neighborhood, but it certainly wasn't the worst.
"We lived in a nice, working class neighborhood. I felt like I was raised in a village. If a neighbor saw me jaywalking, they would tell me to go back across the street and wait for the green light, and then they would tell my Mom. My Mom allowed us to live our lives, but we had rules. The most important one was to finish high school. There was no dropping out in my house. College was an option, but high school was mandatory. I graduated from Cardoza High School in 2001 and went to college in Dover, Delaware.
"Since I was little, everyone around me expected a lot out of me. I think a lot of that comes from starting at the New Community for Children in 1990. Their program helped me to recognize my talents and opened my eyes to the world. With time, I recognized that I was setting trends and not following them. If I could get all of my friends to follow me in doing something silly at school, I thought of what it would be like if I led them to do something positive. I started to do community service and found a love for children. Everyone is not blessed to have a good family and supportive community, so if you can help just one child, you could change someone's life just like my life was changed.
"When I came back from college, I got a job here teaching 4th grade at New Community. I love the mission here, which is that each one teach one. I let my kids know that they can relate to me. Sometimes they are shocked that I know what things are like for them on the street. They look at me as an adult, not as someone who has been through the same things they go through everyday.
"I would be really interested in taking my experience and talking to kids in private or suburban schools about urban life. I would love to tell people that we are not different. We just live in different worlds. A lot of people glorify that world, especially those who don't live in these neighborhoods, but people lose their lives here every day. The streets will chew you up and spit you out if you are not strong enough to survive them. You can judge the life and decisions people make here, but until you live here, it is hard to beat the odds. I don't know too many lawyers or doctors, but I do know a lot of hustlers, drug dealers, and drug users. I might not be rich or famous, but I did beat the odds. So did my sister and brother. And these kids can, too. They just need people to believe in them and give them an opportunity.
"My goal is to be mayor and help make people's lives better and give people who want them opportunities. We don't need hand outs, but we need to help those who want to help themselves. So watch out for me in 2019. Jovonne Simpson, remember the name."
New Community for Children provides underserved children and families in Washington, DC with before school, after school, and summer programs that help them strengthen their academic skills as well as foster the self-confidence and creativity needed to realize their fullest potential. Donate your time or money here.