Henry Brown III was an unlikely candidate to motivate troubled minority students—at least by society’s standards.
Once considered an ‘’at-risk’’ student himself, Brown defied the odds and rose to high levels in his educational and professional endeavors.
Today, the 2002 Florida Teacher of the Year is reaching out to students who, like he once was, are “at risk” of failing.
Brown created an inspiring stage play titled, “Don’t Lose Your Focus,” to raise awareness of the alarming drop-out rates of these students, who face challenges such as absent fathers, drugs, sex, crime and violence.
The play takes the stage at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 24 at the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center near Fort Lauderdale.
Florida’s public high schools have some of the worst student retention rates in the country, with half qualifying as “dropout factories,’’ at four times the national average, according to an analysis of U.S. Education Department data.
The state’s percentage of dropout factories, 51.1 percent, was the second-highest in the nation, slightly less than South Carolina’s, according to the analysis, which was conducted by Johns Hopkins University for The Associated Press.
“I work at an alternative school and it’s depressing to see every year they come in and they’ve lost hope and they’ve lost focus on education and on life. They have no dreams and no visions. They just live for today,” said Brown.
The play is written and directed by Darius Daughtry, an English and Creative Writing teacher at Northeast High School in Oakland Park. The play is dramatized by students from Boyd Anderson High School in Lauderdale Lakes.
The story plays out the real-life drama of numerous students who lose sight of their dreams and get caught up in the negative aspects of their surroundings.
The main character, Jamal Fletcher, played by tenth-grader Delvin Gross, is an A-student who dreams of going to college and being a doctor. But when tragedy strikes, his priorities change, and he falls under the influence of his schoolmate, Donte.
A young drug dealer, Donte (played by Christopher Allen, 16), believes that school is a waste of time, and shows his peers that having money is the only thing that matters.
“[In the play,] I’m the type of guy that us young youth have to deal with all the time. Being from Fort Lauderdale, we struggle for money. So, guys like us—myself and a couple of my friends—we have to encounter these dudes. So, it’s kind of ironic that I have to play one,” said Allen.
Fletcher finds himself on the wrong side of the law and is ordered to do community hours by assisting Mr. William McKay, a nursing home patient. The match-up turns into a life-altering encounter.
Tony Thompson, who was a 15-year member of the Vinnette Carroll Repertoire Company, plays the all-wise “Mr. Willy,” who tries to restore Fletcher’s vision.
“The biggest problem with society today is that young people don’t really have a fix on their life goals and how to achieve those goals,” Thompson said.
During his twelve-year tenure as a math teacher and now as the intern principal at Hallandale Adult Community Center, Brown said he has witnessed many things that cause students to leave school prematurely.
His school is an alternative learning center comprising middle and high school students who are parents or are pregnant, or have low grades and a history of truancy.
To combat this growing epidemic, Brown developed several programs and courses that assist his students, and has served on numerous community and education committees that address teen problems. Through his efforts, many students have become successful.
Some have gone on to college and the Armed Forces, while others started their own businesses.
“There is a sense of urgency, there is a problem that we have in America and I don’t think that people realize the effect the high school drop out has on our economic system and how much it costs to have them in prison,” said Brown, 39.
Born in Fort Lauderdale, and himself a graduate of Boyd Anderson High School, Brown is the first African-American to receive the Florida Teacher of the Year award (in 2002) and was also a National Teacher of The Year finalist.
He said his goal is to produce a series of plays like his latest project, to inspire young people to stay focused on education.
Said Daughtry, the playwright: “We want everyone to understand that no matter what goes on in your life, there’s always hope; there’s always a better way.’’
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Henry Brown
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: “Don’t Lose Your Focus”
WHEN: Saturday, May 24 at 2 p.m.
WHERE: The African-American Research Library & Cultural Center located at 2650 Sistrunk Boulevard near Fort Lauderdale.
COST: $10. To purchase tickets call: 954-415-5308.