Hearing Wintley Phipps sing gospel music has brought tears to the eyes of presidents, celebrities, and even Mother Teresa. Now through the U.S. Dream Academy, Wintley is using the power of his voice to reach out to the children of prisoners and give them a chance to achieve their dreams.
"Our motto is a child with a dream is a child with a chance," says Wintley. "And the opposite is also true. A child without a dream does not stand a chance in this world."
Singing to Save the Next Generation
Twenty years ago, a friend brought Wintley to a prison to sing to the inmates. Wintley was alarmed and haunted by the number of African Americans in prison. When he encountered his wife's pregnant niece in a prison, Wintley says he started to think about the children of people in prison and became very concerned about their future.
"All of my wife's seven brothers and sisters have either been in jail or incarcerated at some point in their lives," says Wintley. "Between 60 and 70% of children of prisoners will become prisoners themselves. I had to do something about it."
In 1998, he created a program to help break the cycle he had seen play out so many times in his own family life. Wintley formed the U.S. Dream Academy to give children who have had a family member behind bars mentoring, academic tutoring, and exposure to computers and the Internet. "Just the computers themselves are not going to transform the lives of these kids," Wintley says. "The most important part of our program is really the caring, loving adults who surround them."
Teaching Children to Dream
Due to the fact that 80% of people in prison are high school dropouts, the program also focuses on at-risk children in grades two through five, to try to reach them when they are academically most vulnerable.
The Dream Academy's first priority is to raise these children's self esteem. The mentoring component gives many children the positive role models they are lacking. Mentors shower the children with love and positive reinforcement.
Wintley says, "I believe that I'm helping children to live out their own dreams, to find their own voice and their own path in life."
A Special Gift from Gateway
Gateway Computers donated 50 top of the line computers for the children at U.S. Dream Academy Learning Centers for academic enrichment. For more information visit www.gateway.com
Building on the Dream
Since receiving the Use Your Life Award, a second site has opened in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Dream Academy has redesigned their center to accommodate more students, streamlined their curriculum, and developed an in-house Web site that hosts academic instruction and educational games for students in grades 3 to 5. The U.S. Dream Academy has also recruited mentors from local colleges.
A new site in Philadelphia will open soon, and plans are being made for additional centers in Houston, Atlanta, New York, New Jersey and Baltimore.