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Child Watch® Column: "Invisible Children"

Release Date: August 9, 2013

Marian Wright Edelman

I would say that, well, obviously my high school didn't prepare me for college.”
                                         --Darryl Briggs, youth leader and college student

The third of five boys born in the Bronx to a single mother who dropped out of high school, Darryl Briggs was starting out with at least two strikes against him. Growing up poor, Black, and bright in the Bronx without guidance, by the time he got to high school he already felt completely ignored, almost invisible. Darryl’s high-poverty high school was eight floors overflowing with 8,000 students and an obvious lack of resources: “There were easily 35 students to a classroom and there weren’t even 35 desks in the classroom for the 35 students to sit in . . .  there was one lab in the entire school.” The physical conditions discouraged learning, but for Darryl, the worst part was the lack of one-on-one attention. His classes were uninteresting and way too easy. None of the teachers noticed his potential and need for academic challenges, or even noticed him at all. When he skipped class, no one asked why. When he started hanging out with the “wrong crowd,” no one told him that wasn’t a good idea.

When he was 15 Darryl ran away from home and got arrested and sentenced to two months in juvenile detention centers. When he tried to go back to high school, school officials said without guidance and support he couldn’t come back. They suggested he get a G.E.D. Soon he was arrested again. The turning point for Darryl was getting involved as a community organizer, finding a mentor, and going through leadership training programs.

A friend introduced him to a community organizing group where Darryl met the person he now calls his lifetime mentor and found his calling making a positive difference for other young people. He became a youth program coordinator for a nonprofit organization, For a Better Bronx, focused on combating youth and environment disparities in the South Bronx, and discovered he wanted to get his G.E.D. and continue his education. Darryl recently graduated from Bronx Community College and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work at Lehman College. He chose social work because it offers an opportunity for him to continue making the one-on-one connections he missed so much. An alumnus and current national trainer for the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)’s Young Advocate Leadership Training (YALT) program, Darryl was a panelist at the Educational Testing Service-CDF’s June symposium in a session on “Lived Experience” which helped participants understand the struggles young Black males face and supports they need in the high school years. Darryl’s ideas about what works come partly from his personal experience with what didn’t work in the all-too-common schools like the one he dropped out of.

Darryl feels strongly that one caring adult can make all the difference. “That’s what I was lacking as far as my high school experience and as far as my adolescence. I didn't have really anyone to guide me and say, hey, D, maybe you could take this route instead of this route, maybe you could make this decision instead of that decision, or maybe I could hold your hand while you do this instead of doing that.”   

Darryl appreciates that he’s able to connect with and serve as an example for the young people he works with because they know he comes from the same place they do. But even when teachers don’t automatically have that connection with their students, Darryl stressed the importance of teachers knowing something about the community their students come from and making the effort to establish some connections: “A sense of cultural competence needs to play a role. We have many teachers that come from different backgrounds.”  Something as simple as giving all staff a tour of the surrounding neighborhood can be a start: “Even those small little things, like, ‘Okay, I bought cereal there,’ you can use that to connect to your students, because they’re like, ‘All right. Well, my mom shops in said places [too].’  So you've established that connection off of something you wouldn't even expect.”  Once again, it comes back to adults making personal connections with the children they serve.

Darryl’s ultimate goal is to found a nonprofit serving young people in the juvenile justice system.  He uses his own story for the young people he works with today to keep them in school and out of prison: “It sounds like a cliché, but never give up, because there are many different roads to achieve the same goal. So whichever venue you take, just never give up, and ultimately, be the best at whatever it is you do.”

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by jst4horses at: August 14, 2013
This is a great story, hopefully it would inspire more teachers and administrators. As a member of a teacher led national group to inspire better education, one in which the Director was a superintendent who raised scores, lowered drop out rates, cleaned up violence and was FIRED .......I have little hope.

Submitted by Syl at: August 12, 2013
The article is very encouraging. I did not grow up in a very bad community, but I can relate to Darryl situation. I have a son that's currently in prison and my wife and I raised him in a great way but, he still ended up in prison. The only thing we can do is to continue to set the best examples for our children and pray that that live the life that God has predestined for them and hope for the best. Thanks for viewing my comments.

Submitted by PeaceWarrior16 at: August 12, 2013
To Mr. Brigg's, Bravo! Thanks for wanting to give back to your home community. May God bless the work of your hands. Here's a great foundation that helps others start-up their own foundations: Caring Institute http://wwwcaring institute/caringawardform.html. (someone needs to nominate you or you can nominate someone, if you're too old), Do Keep up the good work!

Submitted by Anonymous at: August 11, 2013
Congratulations to you Darryl! You are a great example of our broken system but as you put it, "you never gave up." Thank you for joining the fight for change in the lives of our youth and giving them hope and guidance

Submitted by murphy at: August 11, 2013
This sounds like things don't get much better. Read Jonathon Zokel's work in the past and he was dealing with the same conditions when he first started teaching. That was probably back in the 60's or 70's. Have to question the rationale of government when it comes to asking why the budget has such constraints with respect to prison population, much less health area. Those are the main two that come to mind but know it just is so interrelated to most of the social ills plaguing this country, great as it is in so many ways. Thanks for your concern and efforts.

Submitted by Ana at: August 11, 2013
Great resource.

Submitted by azeil at: August 10, 2013
Some children have only one road to follow.

Submitted by warystudent at: August 10, 2013
This young man was lucky and self motivated. Many children lack both. It is high time we give up on the assembly line type of education that fails to adjust the learning system to the learner. Maria Montessori recognised this need and advocated child centered learning, when will the rest of humanity catch up.

Submitted by Pudge at: August 10, 2013
I like this column, except being black, and poor and living in a single parent home does not always lead to failure. My oldest child was the only one who graduated from high school. She moved to Virginia after a failed marriage and graduated with a BSN from Old Dominion U. in Norfolk. Sheis a nurse and after catching hell at her employee in Chesapeake sued them and won! She was the only black employee at that clinic and sued for the working conditions there. My youngest daughter recently graduated with a Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Wyoming. She got her certification by passing two tests in Wyoming and wants to become certified in three additional states, Colorado, SD and Montana. She also became a teen mother and dropped out of high school. However my son, thee middle child is serving a 40 year prison sentence for a crime he did not commit. He is challenging it but the presiding judge here has denied him post-conviction DN testing three times. He is requesting a new trial.

Submitted by MsMoe98 at: August 9, 2013
Thank you for sharing this story! I'd like to know if it's possible to invite Darryl to my school in Washington, DC to speak to our youth? He has the strength and wisdom to share!

Submitted by Nat at: August 9, 2013
I like what Darryl , shared his life to give a great example of how one person can make a major impact in the lives of children

Submitted by John at: August 9, 2013
This story is both deeply moving and deeply troubling. The NYC public education system takes students with enormous potential, like Darryl, and defies them to succeed. These kids are kicked to the curb. Unconscionable; un-American. And mandated by ill-conceived school reformers. School is about young lives and futures, not data!

Submitted by Ellie at: August 9, 2013
Would it be possible for the Children's Defense Fund, under the leadership of Marian Wright Edelman, to organize community based children's development program throughout the nation. This is one of the primary needs of the A-A community, and the CDF is the obvious organization to take the lead in this endeavor.

Submitted by Ellie at: August 9, 2013
Would it be possible for the Children's Defense Fund, under the leadership of Marian Wright Edelman, to organize community based children's development program throughout the nation. This is one of the primary needs of the A-A community, and the CDF is the obvious organization to take the lead in this endeavor.

Submitted by KDM245 at: August 9, 2013
Great article - Darryl is inspirational. As the sister of a lifelong educator (in Brooklyn), I know that there is so much more that can and should be done for our children. It is wonderful to know that Darryl will pass on his insights to other kids throughout the city...

Submitted by Faune at: August 9, 2013
One does not have to be in trouble to be invisible. Teachers often notice the really "bright" kids or the troublemakers. Those in the middle, the quiet ones, the shy ones, the ones without enough confidence to speak up, go unnoticed. I was one of those kids and it didn't feel very good.