WGBH's Henry Santoro discusses "Boston's Bridge to Excellence," a successful youth enrichment program, during a segment of Henry In The Hub. Below is a slightly edited transcription of the interview. To listen to the interview, click on the audio player above.
Henry Santoro: Dejon Rice is one of Boston's unsung heroes. He's the founder and CEO of Boston's Bridge to Excellence, which is a nonprofit organization whose mission it is to build a better Boston for families with the emphasis on children. He's part of the fabric of our city and so is Sophia Bishop-Rice. Not only is she Dejon's colleague at BBTE, but she's also his mother.
Sophia is chair of the organization. She grew up in Roxbury, went to Boston Public Schools, and is an expert in youth development and elementary education. Together, Dejon and Sophia have launched a brand-new fashion program at Boston's Bridge to Excellence that they are here to talk about. It's a pleasure to have both Dejon and Sophia on our WGBH’s Weekend Edition program, and on Henry In The Hub.
Good morning to both of you. Dejon, when BBTE was founded … is its mission today the same as it was when you founded it?
Dejon Rice: Yes, it was founded in 2011. It originally started as a mentoring program for youth and the Boston Center of Youth and Families. The only thing that changed in my organization was I wanted to expand it and to license it. But I wasn't allowed to do that at that center. So, after years of research and networking I learned I could license it and I started at the Tobin K-8 school in Roxbury through the Department of Early Education and Care.
HS: So, what age group and what grades are you focused on?
DR: The age group is three to 13-years-old, so some of the children are about pre-K to seventh grade.
HS: Sophia is someone who's involved in the educational process ... as much as you are setting the foundation at this age group ... is it really all about turning these little boys and girls into men and women correct?
SBR: Correct. And we are able to do that because we offer awesome enrichment programming that the children can really respond to and wrap themselves around and get excited about the learning process.
HS: Dejon you probably would have loved a program like this when you were a kid. Yes. But you also had a great mother who's sitting right next to you who really knew how to raise a good kid. Yes. What was growing up in the inner city like for you?
DR: Well as far as growing up, academically, was very difficult for me. I wasn’t diagnosed with a learning disability, but I knew I had one. I didn't have tutors or mentors when I was growing up, other than my parents.
HS: Yeah, and that's what Bridge to Excellence is all about. It was all about mentors. Now the two of you are here this morning to talk about a brand-new program — one that involves fashion.
SBR: So, the fashion program started out of just our ability to notice our children. We noticed that they would rather draw and play with the Legos or Connect Four. So finally I said, you know, we probably have a great potential to expand on the artistic abilities, and so we were able to download some fashion models offline and they took those fashion models and started to dress them. And the amazing designs that they came up with were breathtaking.
HS: Boston has a fashion institute. Is there any way to get this program attached to that program?
SBR: I mean, we would love to, especially because our children in the program are so young; because we have these programs for middle schoolers and some in high school. However, for the elementary age level it doesn't exist, so we created it.
HS: They are Dejon Rice and Sophia Bishop-Rice, who are the driving forces behind Boston's Bridge to Excellence. So, great to meet you both. Thank you so much for coming in.