A snowstorm February 12 forced officials to postpone the 14th annual Detroit Pistons Foundation Black History Month Scholarship Event. Thirty high school seniors from around Detroit were scheduled to compete in a poetry slam and poster contest for $80,000 in scholarships.
The competition was in partnership with The Future Project, a national organization that works in schools and beyond to help young people develop the mindsets and skills they need to bring their dreams for self, school, and society to life.
To compete, students presented an original interpretation poem of the contest theme, “I Dream Detroit.” The poetry slam took place March 18 in front of more than 300 fellow classmates, teachers, and a panel of community leaders at the Detroit Film Theatre, for $50,000.
Detroit Cody High School senior Idris Ali took home the third place prize of $10,000 and felt he could have done even better.
“I feel like I shorted myself,” said Ali, who said he read off his paper during the performance. “Proper preparation prevents poor performance, but I wasn’t prepared. March 18 came around and I still had to add some finishing touches to my poem. But greatness lies within me, even when I’m not ready. If I had prepared more, I probably could have qualified for first place.”
Ali’s poem was about Detroit progressing and started off with him singing to add a bit of creativity and stage presence to impress the judges. He was back on the big stage Thursday night, when he was honored at center court of the Pistons and Orlando Magic game with his mother. She said he gets his creative side from her.
“I am very proud of him, but I wish he would give me more recognition,” laughed Keitsha Perkins, Ali’s mother. “He actually started off my stealing my lyrics. I’m a rapper myself and he would take my lyrics and rap them to his friends at school. Somehow, he tapped into his own creativity and he’s taking off.”
Ali said he plans on entering the Detroit Promise program to have his college tuition paid for at a two-year college and then transfer to Tennessee State University (TSU). The alma mater of his Dream Director, Lance Woods.
“I already had a close bond with Mr. Woods,” said Ali, who wants to be a Civil Rights Activist. “But this year, I realized his pathways are similar to mine. He’s a successful man and I see myself on the road to success just like him.”
In Detroit, The Future Project is active in nearly half of the public schools, where they embed “Dream Directors” full-time in schools to develop belonging, belief, purpose, and power in young people.
Woods has been a Dream Director for four years at Cody and has his own roots in the Detroit Public School system. He graduated from Northwestern High School in 2006 and grew up in one of the more notorious neighborhoods in the city. A large majority of his friends are either dead or in prison. Woods was able to leave his environment, graduating from high school with a 2.9 GPA, and graduated from TSU in 2012 with a degree in business. But he wanted to impact students in his city directly and decided to come back home and do just that with the Future Project.
“The kids remind me of myself and I wanted to go to a school where the kids truly needed the help and could identify through someone similar to them,” said Woods. “I chose Cody because you hear so much about the negative press there and I wanted to place myself in an environment where I could ignite the fire that exists within the students.”
The other Detroit students honored at the Pistons game included Renaissance’s Alano Carter ($10,000), Destinee Taggart of East English Village Prep ($15,000), Jalen Rose Leadership Academy’s Travon Crook ($15,000), and Aaliyah Cornelius of Cornerstone Health and Technology ($15,000).
Carter took home second place in the in the poster competition, where 15 Detroit students submitted posters for a visual arts interpretation of the theme, “I Dream Detroit.” The posters were voted on by the public from February 8-10 at the Detroit Institute of Arts, for $30,000.
“I feel Detroit has a negative connotation sometimes,” said Carter, who drew a cityscape of Detroit for his poster. “But this is a beautiful city and I wanted to show that in my poster. I made Detroit look as beautiful as possible. I captured all the features that I feel Detroit should be represented by.”
Carter said he plans to attend either Purdue or Savannah College of Art and Design to become a professional animator. He said without his Dream Director helping and encouraging him, he would not have won.
“Alano actually found me. He stumbled into my office and told me what his goals for the school year were and how he wanted to change the culture in the school,” said Danielle Hughes, Dream Director at Renaissance. “Everyone should want a student like Alano. He’s enthusiastic, a team player, hardworking, and the most creative student that I have.”