Godfrey Nelson's first day as a Coldstream Park Elementary School teacher's assistant left him angry at "the system, the government and the parents" of his second-rade students, but nonetheless determined to help change their destinies.
Mr. Nelson, whose family and children have dominated much of his life, couldn't understand why more parents weren't involved with their children's education until he realized that many of the parents were single mothers who worked long hours at two or three jobs to make ends meet. It is difficult, he said, to excuse the government for not giving educators the support they need and the schools the resources and tools to teach.
Maybe it was the comfortable two-parent household in Pikesville that his son and daughter were nurtured in that helped Mr. Nelson to understand that many black Baltimore youngsters are deprived of childhood's joy as well as the lessons needed to become responsible adults.
The 44-year-old vice president of parking and transportation for Broadway Services decided to take action after reading a story in The Sun about the highly acclaimed Project 2000, a program that brings men into schools as volunteer teaching assistants. The idea is for the men to serve as role models for children, mainly black youngsters who are not generally exposed to male role models.
Mr. Nelson describes his own children, Latisha, an Owings Mills High School senior, and Sulaiman, a chemical engineering major at Tuskegee University, as "healthy, bright, intelligent."
At a time when raising and providing for children is no small feat, Mr. Nelson attributes the success he has had with his children to a little luck and a lot of hard work. His success at home compelled him to find a way to "pay someone or something back for being this fortunate." What he found in August 1990 was Project 2000.
He is aggravated by the pervading notion that the young black male is an "endangered species."
"It infuriates me and is something I cannot and will not accept as long as I have breath in my body and light in my soul," Mr. Nelson said. "Project 2000 has given me the opportunity to fight this trend and gives me strength to argue with those who only give lip service to the problem rather than do something," he added.
A typical week for the business executive is crammed with business meetings. But Thursday mornings, Mr. Nelson faithfully blocks out the hours of 8:30 to 11 a.m. for classroom time. He RTC takes attendance, tucks in wayward shirt-tails, gives points on grooming, discusses the often fast-paced business world he loves, or keeps his energetic second graders disciplined.
While it may be the year 2000 before architects of the project determine its success or failure, Mr. Nelson has already concluded that "if I weren't there, they (the students) and I would be missing something."
Mr. Nelson received the Mayor's Achievement Award for his participation in Project 2000 and is on the advisory board of Morgan State University's Center for Educating African-American Males, the coordinating agency for Project 2000.
Mr. Nelson becomes animated when the conversation turns to his work at Broadway Services, a contract services management company owned by the Dome Corporation, a subsidiary of the Johns Hopkins Health System and the Johns Hopkins University, or his life as a student in the prestigious The Leadership, a program sponsored by the Greater Baltimore Committee for emerging civic leaders.
As head of the division responsible for managing 11 parking lots in the city for health-related institutions, Mr. Nelson supervises approximately 160 employees.
With the exception of a 21-month stint as the proprietor of a sandwich shop called the Fish House, the New York City native has held progressively responsible positions in the parking and transportation industry in the New York tri-state area and in Baltimore. He began his career at Broadway Services in June 1987 as the general manager of the parking division and was named vice president of parking and transportation there in July 1991.
"My leadership style is rooted in honesty, truth, fairness, and faith in what I am doing at the moment is the right thing for all involved," he says. His participation in the Leadership class is already adding new dimensions to his life as one of Baltimore's business and civic leaders.
A recent Leadership excursion took members from the classroom and boardroom and into the Maryland State Penitentiary.
"It was as bad as I thought it was going to be. As we walked around and saw the cells stacked on top of each other like cages and the men; what a waste of human life," he said.